Downtown Miami's newest tourist draw lifts off
By Catherine Lackner
The Miami Skylift Balloon, originally set to open last summer, is finally off the ground and "ridership is gradually increasing," said Mark Funnen, owner of the attraction in Bayfront Park, 301 N. Biscayne Blvd.
The passenger-carrying helium balloon is tethered by a steel cable attached to a winch system that raises the balloon up to 500 feet above ground, offering passengers panoramic views of downtown, Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach. The gondola carries up to 30 passengers for the 15-minute ride for a fee of $15.89 for adults, $8.88 for children, plus tax. The attraction is open every day, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday."We did have delays in opening; it was a long process," Mr. Funnen said. "From the day I had the idea until we opened on Nov. 14, it's been six years."
Approvals had to be obtained from the City of Miami, Bayfront Park Trust and other bodies, and construction also took time, he said. "Suddenly, the permits rolled in and we were able to open."
On Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, 250 people rode the skylift, "which is about what we're looking for," Mr. Funnen said. "People don't really know about it yet, but the numbers have been good. Now it's a question of bringing people in."
Mr. Funnen, who moved here from Germany and was in the business of operating tours prior to opening Miami Skylift, said he always thought Miami would be perfect for such an attraction.
"And we are in the perfect location," he said. "We have Bayfront Park right next to us, the grounds, and the whole waterfront that we can use for events and weddings, corporate parties and so on."
A bride seeking a unique wedding can be married, accompanied by her wedding party, aboard the gondola "and we can have a live feed to the guests on the ground," Mr. Funnen said.
The 73-foot-diameter SkyLife Balloon occupies the spot on which the city's Mildred and Claude Pepper Fountain briefly was a city centerpiece. What's left of the fountain is now the base for the balloon ride.
Details: www.miamiskylift.com, (305) 995-5815.