Sightseeing Ferris wheel for Atlanta?

Is Atlanta ready for its own Eye in the sky? More to the point, would anyone pay a development group to build it?

The developers behind the London Eye, the 443-foot-tall observation wheel that takes tourists high above the Thames River and other sights, are pitching the idea of a replica in downtown Atlanta.

But first they’ll have to raise about $200 million and find a 2-acre site downtown.

Companies involved in the London Eye met with a group of about 30 Atlanta business representatives Tuesday. Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, chief benefactor of the Georgia Aquarium, hosted the gathering.

Marcus said he’d love to have a big observation wheel downtown -- but made it clear he won’t be putting up any money for the Atlanta version of an Eye, according to a person who attended the private meeting.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also was on hand Tuesday to say he liked the idea, but he didn’t pledge any public money, the person said.

Marcus, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he had a conversation with Marcus last summer about a sightseeing Ferris wheel. Marcus envisioned it being near Centennial Olympic Park, Pate said.

Downtown Atlanta is always looking for more attractions to keep it fresh with both conventioneers and tourists, Pate noted. He said a sightseeing wheel could potentially change the Atlanta skyline and attract more international tourists, he said. Conventions also could rent out the large suite-like cabins for events, he added.

The London Eye developers estimate a 45-story Atlanta wheel would attract 2.7 million visitors a year, slightly more than the aquarium.

Observation wheels with enclosed cabs give tourists a birds-eye view of a city, and have proven popular, if not totally financially successful, in other cities including London, Chicago, Singapore and Vienna, Austria. Beijing is building one.

Londoners protested the Eye’s skyline impact when it was first proposed, and runaway construction costs made the attraction struggle financially after opening.

Nevertheless, it became Britain’s most popular attraction: The 30-minute ride gets 3.5 million visitors a year despite high prices. Rides are about $30 dollars, or $53 including a glass of champagne. The wheel has 32 enclosed, air-conditioned capsules that hold 25 people each.

Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, said a wheel like the London Eye would move the needle in Atlanta’s attempt to improve its destination appeal.

“The power of a big iconic landmark is that it stands out and it differentiates,” he said.

But he said placement and design would be critical. The wheel needs to be situated where it stands out as a destination. If an Atlanta Ferris wheel were about as high as the London Eye, that would be just under half the height of Atlanta’s tallest building, Bank of America Plaza. He said that would make a huge visual impact.