Separated from lower Manhattan by five miles of water, Staten Island often feels like the neighbor no one invited to the blowout block party.

Last year, 52 million tourists visited New York City -- spreading around more than $36 billion among hotels, shops, restaurants, cabbies and theaters.

But while every tourist handbook on Earth up talks up the free Staten Island ferry ride from lower Manhattan to St. George across the harbor, few of the ferry's 1.5 million annual sightseers stay and linger. Most just turn around and take the next boat back. Happily that could change.

The City Planning Commission has given its blessing to the construction of a 625-foot-tall Ferris wheel -- one of the tallest in the world. A City Council vote scheduled for next month will determine if the project complies with city land-use rules. Hope they don't hit the off switch.

The New York Wheel, as the ride is called, would offer some of the best seats in town for beholding the splendor of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, the glittering towers of Manhattan, the twinkling streets of a resurgent Brooklyn and beyond. It would give Staten Islanders sole, if temporary, bragging rights over lesser efforts like the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer. Dubai unfortunately is contemplating a wheel that's 688 feet tall.

Ferris wheel backers on Staten Island are predicting about 4.5 million riders a year. Accompanying their plans are blueprints for a 350,000-square-foot outlet mall and a 200-room hotel on St. George's north shore.

So what's not to like? Many Staten Islanders are worried about traffic and parking problems in St. George. They have a point. The complex would draw multitudes not just from the ferry but from the highways of Brooklyn and New Jersey. Promoters must provide solid answers.

But Staten Islanders seem thoroughly pleased about one thing: Brooklyn's No. 1 booster, Borough President Marty Markowitz, insists the wheel belongs on Coney Island. Very adamantly. So the "forgotten borough" can't get an overdue piece of NYC's glory? Sorry, Marty. This is Staten Island's moment to soar as the wheel of fortune turns.