Seated inside a gondola swaying high above the Boardwalk, Steel Pier owner Anthony Catanoso points toward a giant circular shadow cast on the sand below. He's test-ridden the massive observation wheel at least 100 times, but this image is still his favorite.
And on Tuesday, others were also able to view the glistening water and Atlantic City's oceanfront hotel-casinos while suspended 227 feet in the air.
Steel Pier's $14 million observation wheel — the third-largest in the country — had finally opened to the public.
"You just can't beat this view — the ocean, the beach, the skyline," Catanoso said.
The delayed construction of a strong aluminum deck at the pier pushed back the opening date for months, but final inspections were completed last week.
It brought a sigh of relief for Catanoso, who has been involved with the project since 2013, when the city's planning board approved it.
Before 1 p.m., about a dozen people strolling along the Boardwalk had found refuge from 30-degree temperatures by filing into the heated cars of the wheel for a slow, 15-minute ride. The wheel has 40 cars, each with a small table in the center and a speaker looping pop hits.
At night, the wheel lights up in red, blue, and green.
The wheel's steel beams were shipped to Newark, N.J., from Italy, which Catanoso visited four times to meet with seven subcontractors. The huge structure spins with help from eight motors and an electrical box at the hub, Catanoso said.
Great views aside, Catanoso hopes the wheel brings renewed excitement to the Boardwalk after the doldrums brought by the shuttering of a number of casino resorts. Over the next year, he hopes to partner with neighboring casinos to offer visitor packages that include rides on the wheel.
"People will come back to Atlantic City. They just need a reason," Catanoso said. "It's going to be a really exciting time."
Chris Howard, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, agrees.
In a September interview, Howard said the wheel was expected to be part of an "exciting time" for the city and a move away from a near-exclusive reliance on gambling. Surrounding the pier are a number of other projects, including a 250-unit apartment complex called the Beach at South Inlet and a Boardwalk restoration plan.
"By generating additional activity on the Boardwalk, we hope to encourage further investment in nongaming amusements and amenities in the city," he said.
The wheel, which can hold six passengers per car, will be open in the winter on a day-by-day basis, depending on the temperature. The wheel won't operate if it is deemed too cold for the operators. A ride costs $15 for adults and $12 for children.