Usually when a middle-aged man leaves his family for a new life in Las Vegas, the circumstances involve a pretty young girl in a spangly dress. For 59-year-old Eric Eberhart, the girl is a 550-foot-tall, 7.2-million-pound Ferris wheel—and, budgeted at $550 million, she’s not exactly a cheap date.
His family has stayed behind in Orlando, Florida, so his son can finish high school there. But Eberhart, general manager of Caesars Entertainment’s soon-to-open High Roller—the centerpiece of its new project the Linq—does seem enamored. “I love doing things that are unique, big, and best,” says the Disney veteran, who began working for the Mouse when he was just a teenager, as a ride operator in Tomorrow Land. “This played right into that segment.”
A view of the High Roller from the Linq’s Strip entrance.
Being the kind of man who would leave his wife and son to oversee construction of a Ferris wheel in Las Vegas, Eberhart is obviously consumed with his work—to the point that all conversations (including one concerning what he personally loves about larger-than-life attractions) eventually go back to the High Roller. “I get off on being part of a team that accomplishes what once seemed impossible,” he says. “My adrenaline rush comes from doing something that hasn’t been done before and then seeing people coming off the ride with big smiles. I’ll be proud when folks see this magnificent wheel and experience it. That is what it’s all about for me.”
At Disney, where he helped build the original Tower of Terror, Eberhart served as a voice of reason, ensuring that rides and other attractions would be both effective and profitable. Along the way, he has seen more than his share of gambles by promoters of various skyscraping rides. “A lot of wheel proposals come up and they die long or short deaths,” says this pragmatist, who eschews extended nights of risk-taking, inside a casino or out. “Either the concepts don’t prove themselves or the numbers of potential guests keep it from being financially viable.” Eberhart was fully sold on the Vegas project before up and moving across the country to oversee it. “We’re fortunate in that we have 20 million guests walking along the Strip, and the wheel acts as an anchor for the Linq,” he says. “They play off of each other nicely.”
Aerospace technology went into giving visitors a sky-high view they’ll never forget.
The same can be said of the various elements that have contributed to the High Roller. In all, 500 employees from around the world have put it together—with 3,700 bolts, each weighing around 10 pounds, holding the spindles to the wheel’s hub. “We have 3 million pounds of steel that were fabricated in Shanghai,” says Eberhart. “Glass comes from Italy, China, and Japan. The bearings and hub were designed in Germany and fabricated in Sweden. Then we have a bridgebuilding company from Pittsburgh doing the erection and putting together the steel.” He takes a breath before adding that it will all be worth it in the end. “I’ve been up halfway, just 275 feet, and it already looks stunning. You see the uniqueness of the desert, look back 60 or 70 years and wonder what it is that brought people here in the first place.”
Unable to resist sharing a sneak preview of what we’ll experience once we’re inside the High Roller, Eberhart says, “A loop will take around 30 minutes, and for most of that time guests will probably be standing.” He points out that there are only eight seats in each 225-square-foot cabin, the air conditioning is twice as powerful as what you have at home, the glass will refract the sunlight, and drinking is encouraged. “A lounge is situated in the departure area, and if you engage a private cabin, we can roll a bar on board.”
By year’s end, Eberhart expects construction to be completed. Months of rigorous testing will follow, and, if all goes according to plan, the High Roller should be operating sometime in the first half of 2014. Besides bringing people into the Linq, he anticipates it will also bring Vegas to the people. “Get up toward the top and you have a perspective on just how pretty Las Vegas really is,” Eberhart says, making the whole thing sound a little mystical. “You get a sense of how each building is uniquely and artfully accented. Taking in the Strip as a whole, you feel as if the lights are jumping out at you. Then you add the neon from Downtown, and you see how our city keeps changing and evolving.”