Amusement park rides approved for Cocoa Beach Pier

Traffic, noise concern residents who live nearby

COCOA BEACH, Fla. – The Cocoa Beach Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve three amusement park rides at the Cocoa Beach Pier.

The 6-0 vote came with two stipulations for the Pier's owners: No music can be played on ride sound systems and rides cannot operate past 8 p.m., two hours earlier than was originally requested, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The founder of Westgate Resorts and owner of the Cocoa Beach Pier released a statement Wednesday only hours before the adjustments board meeting.

“When we acquired this historic pier, we committed to resurrecting it and creating a world-class destination the community could be proud of," said David Siegel, founder of the Orlando-based Westgate Resorts.

"We believe the quality of our work and immense positive feedback from our guests speak to this," Siegel said. "The few small attractions we are adding will be consistent with this level of quality and will improve the experience for tourists and residents alike.”

The pier opened in 1962 and has been a Space Coast landmark ever since, popular with tourists, surfers and more. The property was showing its age when Westgate purchased the pier in April 2014 and quickly went about making millions of dollars in renovations.

Many critics of the pier's plans to add three amusement rides lauded Westgate for the improvements the company has made at the pier and how it's a much better place now than it was prior to the purchase.

However, residents living nearby were concerned about traffic and noise associated with the rides, mainly the latter.

"This will just drive our property values, down, down, down," said Harriet Fersh, who lives near the pier.

Resident Wendy McNally said she watched YouTube videos of people on the rides the pier plans to add and said there's no question it will be nosier.

"There were kids screaming," McNally said.

In the end, the adjustment board members, and others supporters who attended the meeting Wednesday, said Westgate has done nothing but make the pier, and Cocoa Beach, a better place

And adjustment board member Barry Plans said "I don't think adding three rides makes it an amusement park."

Siegel and his family used to visit the pier often while growing up in Central Florida.

The three rides to be added include a carousel, one called the "Tornado" and another called the "Drop & Twist." The tallest of the rides, the "Drop & Twist," stands 29 feet high. Each of the rides is portable and could be relocated during a serious storm, Florida today reported.

• Tornado — Eight suspended cars (up to four passengers per car) spin in circles. Once the motor speeds up to 10 rotations per minute, the spinning ride lifts 7.5 feet and tilt 20 degrees.

Tornado is illuminated by 780 "turbo lights."

• Carousel — Of the 15 horses, 10 move up and down and five are freestanding. All horses feature brass poles and seat belts.

Optional items include chariots, giraffe and zebra.

• Drop & Twist — The pneumatic ride elevates and spins up to eight passengers, clockwise or counterclockwise.

The rides will be just south of the pier's entrance and north of Pulsipher Avenue.

Because Cocoa Beach doesn't have anything on the books that addresses amusement park rides, pier operators needed special permission to put them on the property.

Some people support the addition of rides, saying it will be a tourism draw and provide more activities for families.

Eric Garvey, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said Wednesday: “I think it will be a great addition to what they offer there. I think it will work out great.”

Tom Williamson, a local hotelier, president of the Cocoa Beach Area Hotel & Lodging Association, “We’re trying to be family friendly in Cocoa Beach and it seems that would be right in this wheelhouse.”

Maybe because of the number of snowbirds and condo investors, comments about the proposal came not just from locals but from many across the United States.

"It's not going to be a nice, family-friendly atmosphere," said Jim Skowronski, a real estate broker from Philadelphia, Pennsyvlania, who owns two condos nearby in Cape Canaveral.

Westgate Resorts also owns the Wakulla Suites in Cocoa Beach.