Bringing the Gesa Carousel of Dreams to life after more than a decade of false starts was quite an accomplishment.
For a time, it seemed likely that the carousel would never take one spin in the Tri-Cities after failed fundraising efforts and a lack of consensus on its location.
The city had to bail out the struggling Three Rivers Carousel Foundation and invest $830,000 in public funds to rescue the carousel in 2003. The historic wooden horses were restored, and the carousel was put in storage awaiting an uncertain fate. At the time, it seemed likely it was headed for the auction block so the city could recoup its money. But Kennewick gave the foundation one last chance in 2012 to make the vision a reality.
With the right mix of people in place at the right time, the carousel’s proponents were able to raise the money necessary and develop a plan.
Since its opening in 2014, the carousel has exceeded expectations in all kinds of ways. After about 18 months in operation, the carousel is already debt free, paying off the $354,000 the foundation had to borrow in order to complete the $4 million project.
About 185,000 people visited the carousel in its first year of operation, and it generated $400,000 in revenue. The original business plan had conservative forecasts and predicted it would take several years to be self-sustaining. Many people wondered if a carousel charging $3 a ride could ever be profitable.
But organizers have proved if you build a great facility, people will come. More than 500 special events have been held at the carousel, ranging from kiddie birthday parties to the unexpected demand by groups to rent the facility for weddings, company parties and fundraisers.
The location has also turned out to be ideal. It’s easy to access, and there’s plenty of parking at the city’s 52-acre Southridge Sports and Events Complex, which has a walking path and plays host to lots of youth sporting events.
When the carousel first arrived here in 2002, hopes were high. But the momentum for the project failed despite many good intentions. We questioned the city’s investment and grew weary of the project’s inability to be realized. We recommended the city divest itself from the carousel, expecting it would be shelved like so many other lofty but unrealized plans.
We’re sure glad the foundation members and the donors and sponsors who supported the ultimate project proved us wrong. The Gesa Carousel of Dreams is a great addition to the community, and its operators have shown they can manage money wisely, ensuring a long life for the historic ride. Excess revenue will be put into a fund to maintain the antique carousel characters and create an endowment fund.
The carousel’s success is proof that hard work by a committed band of folks can make what had once seemed impossible possible.