Iraq is calling on companies to submit designs to build a giant Ferris wheel in Baghdad — the latest in a string of lavish proposals painting the capital as a leisure friendly city.
The Ferris wheel, dubbed the Baghdad Eye, will soar more than 650 feet over the city and feature air-conditioned compartments that would each carry up to 30 passengers, Baghdad municipal spokesman Adel al-Ardawi said Wednesday.
Three possible locations in Baghdad have been selected, but officials are waiting to see what proposals are submitted before picking one, al-Ardawi said, declining to give an estimated construction cost or timeline.
"We hope to attract a great number of customers who will be able to see the whole city and enjoy the restaurants and pools on ground below," he told The Associated Press.
Tourism a tough sell
Tourism is a tough sell in Iraq, however, because there are still suicide attacks that kill dozens and infrastructure is weak. But since insurgent attacks and sectarian bloodshed have declined over the past year, Iraqis are venturing outside their homes.
Al-Ardawi said the wheel would be taller than the iconic London Eye, which sits on the banks of the River Thames and reaches a height of about 450 feet over the British capital.
The London Eye opened in January 2000 and it took seven years to complete the project, which cost 35 million pounds — about $64.5 million in the current exchange rate. The London Eye has attracted more than 27 million visitors since it opened, according to its Web site.
Officials are also using the downturn in violence to begin promoting tourism. The Ferris wheel and other tourism projects could be built in areas where security is tight and unlikely that suicide attacks would happen. The main city park, Zawra, is adjacent to the Green Zone and home to the Baghdad Zoo.
Families now venturing out
Families are often seen relaxing at night in parks and children flock to pools. On Monday, tens of thousands of soccer fans cheered on their club in a Baghdad stadium — the largest sports crowd the city saw since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
There are risk-takers despite the possibility of violence. American businessman Robert Kelley announced plans last month to build a luxury hotel in Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses Iraqi government offices and the U.S. military and diplomatic facilities.
Iraq's Tourism Board also is seeking investors to develop a "romantic" island on the Tigris River in Baghdad that was once a popular honeymoon spot for newlywed Iraqis, the U.S. military announced this week.
The project would including a six-star hotel, spa, an 18-hole golf course and a country club, the military said in a statement.
"The city of Baghdad has a depth of history and a cultural legacy that, when applied to the development, can be a basis for attracting and fostering tourism," the statement said, not mentioning the war.