Four members of a nonprofit that has fought to get a 102-year-old carousel built in Kennewick will travel to Ohio today now that the project is a reality with Gesa Credit Union's $1 million sponsorship.
Just minutes after signing a contract Monday that gives Gesa naming rights of the carousel for 12 years, Eric Van Winkle said The Carousel Foundation can "move forward with confidence."
"We're going from a group that was proposing building a carousel to a group that is building a carousel," Van Winkle, the foundation's board chairman, told the Herald. "Gesa made it possible."
Van Winkle and Gesa President and CEO Christina Lethlean had a ceremonial signing of the partnership agreement before a dozen people. This makes the Richland-based financial institution the largest single donor to the project.
It now will be called The Carousel of Dreams presented by Gesa Credit Union.
Organizers plan to break ground in mid-November at the Southridge Sports and Events Complex in Kennewick.
The following eight or nine months will be spent building the 10,000-square-foot facility and installing the vintage 1910 Charles Carmel horses with hopes of opening the carousel by July, Van Winkle said. The 44 animals have been restored since they were purchased in 2003 and now are in captivity awaiting their release, he added.
"This is world-class art that you can ride, touch and feel," Van Winkle said. "We're going to build you a destination that has arts and entertainment, and historical value too."
The carousel board members headed to Ohio will be getting a mechanism that drives the carousel, said Van Winkle. They will visit The Carousel Works outside of Columbus, which claims to be the largest manufacturer of wooden carousels in the world.
Lethlean said she's proud to be associated with The Carousel Foundation in bringing the timeless treasure to the Tri-Cities, where both residents and visitors will be able to enjoy "this unique and wonderful carousel."
"This is something that is going to help the community in so many ways," she said.
Lethlean credited the organization's members with having the vision so many years ago when the horses were first acquired and pursuing the dream so people of all ages could one day see the carousel in action.
"I look forward to taking my children there and the grandkids," she said.
The partnership goes with Gesa Credit Union's commitment to providing support for the communities in which it serves, Lethlean explained.
"It just was a natural fit. It came together so easily" after learning The Carousel Foundation was looking for a major sponsor, Lethlean said.
"It's taking off and it's very exciting," she added. "It's a sign of maturity of a community when we start investing more in the arts and family activities, and bring history too."
The foundation has received an additional $500,000 from a second sponsor to be named at a later date. The group is committed to finishing the project without any more taxpayer money.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org