A Florida tax collector claims that Skyview’s operators failed to pay more than $350,000 in property taxes before it left Pensacola Beach for Atlanta two years ago. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Atlanta’s SkyView Ferris wheel target of Florida tax lawsuit

It would take one heck of a repo man, but a tax collector in western Florida is suing to take possession of one of Atlanta’s newest attractions – the 20-story Skyview Ferris wheel.

In a suit filed in Fulton County Superior Court earlier this month, Escambia County Tax Collector Janet Holley asked that Fulton’s sheriff be ordered to “surrender” SkyView to the Florida county “for its retention and/or disposition.”

Holley claims the Skyview’s operators failed to pay more than $350,000 in property taxes before it left Pensacola Beach for Atlanta two years ago.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, Holley said she hopes the overdue taxes will be paid, laughing at the prospect of the county taking possession of a 200-foot Ferris wheel that has become part of the downtown Atlanta skyline.

“This is tangible personal property and when those taxes are unpaid, warrants are issued and a lien is placed on the equipment.” Holley said. “The next step is to seize the item and then you can sell it to settle the taxes.”

“I really would prefer they just pay their taxes,” Holley said.

A spokesman for Atlanta Partners LLC, which operates SkyView, called the suit “a vendetta.”

“Pensacola has always been angry that this wonderful icon left their city and came to Atlanta,” spokesman Jason Evans told Channel 2 Action News.

District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall, reached late Tuesday, said he was “surprised” to hear of the controversy in Florida. Hall said he wanted to speak with both Atlanta Partners LLC, as well as the Florida tax assessor, to better understand the conflict.

“My experience with them has been that they have kept their word and done everything they said they were going to do. I’ve never heard of any other creditors or vendors, or anyone saying they owed them, not publicly to me. And I surely have watched them invest in a very short period of time, and reinvest, and expand quickly,” Hall said. “They’ve been stand-up in all the things they’ve done to date as far as their engagement with me and what I’ve seen in terms of investment and future plans.”

Hall said he hopes the conflict is resolved “in very short order” unless there is a disagreement about what taxes are potentially owed. “If it is at all true, we want to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed declined comment when reached late Tuesday.

SkyView opened near Centennial Olympic Park in summer 2013, operating under a contract between the city and Atlanta Partners and The Tabernacle Group. The Ferris wheel is on land owned by The Tabernacle that also encroaches on city-owned property.

The Ferris wheel is owned by a European company and leased to operators. It features 42 climate-controlled gondolas with leather seats and a glass floor.

The attraction originally operated in Paris, across from the Louvre art museum, before being moved to Bern, Switzerland, then to the United States. It was moved to Pensacola Beach to test the U.S. market before operators decided on a more permanent home - Atlanta.

In December, the Atlanta City Council extended the city’s contract with Atlanta Partners and The Tabernacle Group, allowing the companies to continue operating the attraction through 2015.

Escambia County appraises the Ferris wheel at $11.3 million based on a similar attraction in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Florida suit claims Atlanta Partners and Expo 60 Ventures LLC, which previously operated the attraction in Pensacola Beach, Fla., have failed to satisfy the tax debt from 2013.

The suit says that while the Ferris wheel was in Pensacola Beach, Expo 60 failed to file a tax return for the 2013 calendar year by April 1 of that year.

“Expo 60 removed the Ferris Wheel from the State of Florida without paying the taxes it owed Plaintiff,” the lawsuit says. Removing the attraction from Florida is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine and jail time, the suit says.

Escambia County said Expo 60 eventually filed a tax return in May 2014 but put an incorrect date on the filing and it was rejected. In the meantime, the Expo 60’s lease on the wheel was transferred to Atlanta Partners, according to the county.

Holley said the county has repeatedly sent notices about the overdue taxes.

AJC staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.

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