Kyle grew up working in his family’s business founded by his father, Hal. Currently, Kyle is the Vice President of their company, Great Western Pacific. Kyle serves as the operations manager for Pier 57 and the waterfront restaurants and shops located on the Pier. In addition to Pier 57, the family’s company also owns and operates the Crab Pot and Fisherman’s Restaurants located in Bellevue, Washington and in Southern California. Kyle spoke at our March luncheon.
Guest blog post by Gordon Hodge ’86
The Seattle Great Wheel – Kyle Griffith Class of 2002
For those interested in entrepreneurship and what makes America great (despite what makes America not so great…lots of red tape and bureaucracy for businesses interested in change and growth), we were treated to a captivating presentation by Kyle Griffith (’02) about his and his father’s (Hal Griffith) quest to develop The Seattle Great Wheel which now graces Seattle’s Pier 57. In the early 1960’s Kyle’s dad ran and leased a fish restaurant on the pier. Through some term in the lease the Griffith family came to own Pier 57. Beginning in the 1970s Hal Griffith attempted to put a Ferris wheel in a park along the piers to add an attraction to the area but faced too much red tape. This was before the now iconic Santa Monica pier Ferris wheel was built so an opportunity was lost for Seattle for some time.
Roll the clock 30 years forward. With the viaduct construction work due to temporarily disrupt business along the Seattle waterfront the Griffiths (this time with Kyle old enough to be an active part of the business) resurrected their idea of a Ferris wheel but rather than deal with the daunting red tape that they faced earlier when trying to build it in the waterfront park, they began exploring the potential for building a wheel on the pier. Given that the wheel they had in mind was to be the largest on the West Coast (almost two times the size of Santa Monica’s) and weighs 280,000 pounds this was an engineering undertaking to say the least.
Kyle reviewed through slides the removal of a significant number of pilings that held up the end of their pier. Many were over 100 years old and were simply inverted trees. Replacing those pilings were massive tubes driven to the bedrock with a couple of huge pile drivers that were designed to minimize disturbance of the marine life around the pier. These were then filled with more than 550 tons of concrete! The wheel materials came from various places around the globe including Kansas, Germany and Switzerland. The wheel itself cost approximately $10 million and the reconstruction of the pier and related supports made for an all-in cost of about $30 million. Quite an investment. Completed in the early summer of 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel rises 175 feet above the pier and extends 40 feet over the water.
The wheel officially opened on June 29, 2012 in time for one of the more pleasant Seattle summers in recent times and attendance is on pace to exceed 1 million in the first year, which is ahead of plan. For a ticket price of $13 for adults and $8.50 for children, up to 300 passengers in 42 fully enclosed gondolas get three turns of the wheel, which takes 15 minutes. There is even a glass bottom VIP gondola with a $50 ticket price. In response to a predictable question from our audience, “has anyone gotten lucky on it yet?” Kyle suspects the Wheel has already several members of its “mile high” club equivalent. Kyle himself “got lucky” in a way as he proposed to his bride on the Great Seattle Wheel! Those amongst us that had ridden the Great Wheel remarked how nice the personnel were and all enjoyed the experience. Kyle mentioned that many of the employees are lift operators from local ski areas.
For those that have not had a chance to ride the Great Seattle Wheel Kyle indicated he would make tickets available at the next Fiji luncheon, but c’mon guys its only $13 and who knows you might even get lucky!