Northern California's first sky diving simulator is taking shape alongside Alvarado-Niles Road, between the Unocal 76 gas station and Lowe's Home Improvement.
What now looks like an 80-foot-tall sideways 'E' soon will be a fully enclosed $6.5 million wind tunnel powered by four 250 horsepower electric fans. The machinery is capable of whipping gusts up to 150 mph strong enough to suspend in flight most NFL linebackers.
Hundreds of people a day will "sky dive" in Union City, said Kent Sessions, who is building the simulator under the banner of SkyVentures Silicon Valley.
Judging from the reported success of SkyVentures' other franchises from Russia to Florida, there seems little question that the Union City branch will get plenty of visitors.
But one question that remains unanswered is whether a sky-diving simulator at the already crowded shopping center will lead to a parking and traffic crunch.
While only time will tell, both Sessions and city officials don't expect any problems.
The tunnel can't hold many people, they say, and most of the patrons will have to reserve space well in advance.
No more than four customers are allowed inside the 12-foot-wide wind tunnel at one time; beginners must fly solo. At optimum capacity, according to a city report, the tunnel could serve about 24 patrons in an hour.
"It's not like a movie theater where you have 300 people all coming at one time," Planning Manager Joan Malloy said.
That doesn't mean the city isn't hedging its bets.
It is requiring SkyVentures to supply valet parking at nearby lots for at least its first three months of operation.
Sessions said he doesn't think the service will prove necessary.
SkyVentures in Union City will have 14 parking spots, he said, far more than the nine spots at the company's Orlando facility.
"We're much smaller than the movie theater and the restaurants," he said.
A city report found that at its busiest, SkyVentures would require a maximum of 20 parking spaces.
Sessions, a former Hewlett-Packard executive, said he bought the territorial rights to open a SkyVentures in the Bay Area after taking his sons to the one in Orlando.
His financial backers include several high-tech companies, and Sessions said he expects the Union City locale to prove just as popular for corporate team-building excursions as it will with local kids and sky-diving teams.
Union City, which will receive 3 percent of the tunnel's gross ticket sales, approved the project in December 2004.
Sessions said seismic issues have slowed construction, but that he intends to get it running before summer gets into full swing.
A ticket for a beginner will cost about $50, Sessions said. That pays for a one-hour session, which will include two one-minute simulations inside the tunnel. The rest of the time is spent putting on safety gear, training for the simulation and waiting for one's turn.
Patrons actually don't freefall inside the tunnel. The winds suspend people just a few feet above a safety net, Sessions said, which is why children as young as 3 years old are welcome.
Staff writer Matthew Artz covers Union City for The Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7003 or email@example.com.