Tri-Citians may be able to ride on a 100-year-old carousel horse as soon as next summer if a group of business and community leaders transform a decade-old dream into reality.
Eric Van Winkle, chairman of the 16-member Three Rivers Carousel Foundation, told the Kennewick City Council on Tuesday that the nonprofit could have the Carousel of Dreams up and running in 13 months without using any more taxpayer dollars.
The cost for a new building reminiscent of a circus tent to house the carousel and to construct a mechanical platform so the 44 horses can bob up and down once again would be about $1.9 million, Van Winkle told the council.
That includes $1.6 million for the building, located between the Southridge Sports and Events Complex and the baseball fields. A gazebo would have to be moved so there is room for the 12,000-square-foot building, Van Winkle said.
An estimated $250,000 would get the 1910 Charles Carmel carousel back to mechanical running condition, he said.
"It's 100-year-old world-class art that you can touch and feel," Van Winkle said.
The council was considering selling off the carousel horses to recoup some of the $830,000 the city invested in the project. The horses, bought in 2003, were restored and have been sitting in city storage.
But the city gave the nonprofit and its new board members another chance to finish the project in January.
Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said the foundation has given the council exactly what was needed.
"I am impressed with how far you have come," he said.
The foundation plans to operate the carousel for public rides, as well as renting out the building for events, such as weddings and corporate gatherings, Van Winkle said. Two banquet rooms and a gift shop are part of the design.
Van Winkle expects the carousel to operate at a loss for the first two years, but said the foundation plans to for the carousel to become self-sustaining.
Councilman Don Britain said he still is convinced the carousel won't generate enough money to sustain itself and will become the city's responsibility.
He said he wanted time to review the group's proposed three-year operating budget.
The foundation's projections show an operating loss of $88,350 in the first year, $60,500 the second year and $32,750 the third year.
The budget starts at about $216,000 for the first year, including one full-time manager and several part-time employees. The initial plan is to keep the carousel open 200 days a year for about eight hours a day.
The foundation estimates ridership will start at 50,000 the first year and increase to 75,000 the third year. Cost would be $2 per ride.
The city would continue to own the land and carousel, and would own the building the foundation will pay for, Van Winkle said. The foundation would lease the property and building from the city and hire an executive director to handle operations.
Councilman Bob Parks said he would support moving forward on the project.
But he said he wants to make sure the city will not end up supporting the carousel financially any more than it has.
The city already has made a large investment in it, he said. Parks previously said he wanted the city to get back the $830,000 already spent on the carousel.
Parks said he thinks the right group of people are behind the project. He hopes they will be successful in finishing the carousel in the 13 months the group has proposed.
"If it is going to go, it needs to go," he said.
Van Winkle said they expect to receive about a third of the money from in-kind donations. Already, $300,000 has been donated without active fundraising, he said. And they still have $40,000 in the bank.
Dwight Marquart, the foundation's vice chairman, told the Herald he and many of the new board members want to see a merry-go-round that will add to the region's quality of life.
"All kinds of people have said they want to be a part of this. There's a lot of passion out there," said Marquart, who became involved in the carousel project about a year ago.
The foundation has moved the mechanical platform to a Port of Kennewick-owned building on Columbia Drive so the parts could be inventoried and assembled. That building was leased at no cost, except for the $500 insurance.
More of the pieces are useable than the foundation's board expected, including some of the costly parts like the large gears, Van Winkle said.
He said they are making molds of the parts so pieces can be more easily repaired later.
The council will consider giving approval for the carousel project at its June 5 meeting.
-- Reporter John Trumbo contributed to this report. Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org