The Gesa Carousel of Dreams is giving older Tri-Citians a glimpse back to their childhoods and Tri-City children a new toy.
Kennewick’s historic carousel has given more than 40,000 rides since it opened almost three months ago.
“This is the new all-ages gathering location,” said Eric Van Winkle, carousel foundation chairman.
The carousel’s banquet room also has seen a surprising amount of use, he said. He’s had up to 12 birthday parties booked on a single weekend. Holiday parties also are popular.
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The carousel has events up to seven days a week, but public hours remain Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The carousel isn’t always packed, but the horses get little rest, Van Winkle said. It comes alive with music, riders and spectators.
People buy more tokens than they are use, some choosing to save them as souvenirs. It costs about $2 to $3 to ride the carousel, depending on how many tokens someone buys at one time. The token machines take debit cards or cash.
So far, the carousel brought in about $90,000 during its first 60 days of operation, Van Winkle said. But it’s too soon to shout for joy.
“We are generating more revenue than it costs to run the building, but we are going into some cold months,” he said.
The foundation also depends on volunteers to operate the carousel and clean the building, Van Winkle said. The nonprofit recently hired four part-time employees to help with concessions and operations.
Volunteers are critical to the carousel’s operation, Van Winkle said. A dedicated group of about helps operate and maintain the carousel. The carousel must be tested and maintained each day before it can open to the public.
“Our success has been volunteers,” he said. “We could not have gotten here without them.”
The foundation just made its first payment — a double payment — on the $350,000 the nonprofit borrowed to finish the building, Van Winkle said.
The $10,000-a-month sponsorship from Toyota of Tri-Cities already provides the money to pay for the foundation’s debt, Van Winkle said. But the board is trying to pay down the loan faster.
The foundation’s board wants to get the carousel out of debt by June, he said. Then the goal becomes building up savings to support the operation, maintenance and preservation of the carousel into the future.
Some other revenue is assured. The carousel has commitments from individuals and companies who signed sponsorship contracts. That money should come in during the next few years.
The foundation also sells tiles and sponsorships for horses and rounding boards, Van Winkle said. Most of the unsponsored horses range in price from $15,000 to $35,000.
The foundation finished the carousel without using any more taxpayer money, which the Kennewick City Council mandated.
In 2012, city officials gave the foundation one last chance to get the carousel running or they would consider selling the horses to recoup the city’s $830,000 investment.
The volunteer group and the community made it happen.
The tide turned that year after Gesa stepped up and donated $1 million for the naming rights. Other donors jumped in, including Toyota of Tri-Cities and Baker Produce of Tri-Cities.