Kennewick's Gesa Carousel of Dreams close to debt-free

Kennewick's Gesa Carousel of Dreams won't be debt-free when it opens this week.

But it will be close.

The foundation took out a short-term, $300,000 loan to finish the building for the carousel at the Southridge Sports & Events Complex, said Eric Van Winkle, carousel foundation chairman. That loan is to be paid back during the next few years.

Overall, the community will have spent $3.7 million to buy and restore the historic carousel horses and to build the carousel's new home.

About 60 companies helped make the project a reality. CRF Construction of Richland led the work.

The carousel already has commitments of $454,000 from individuals and companies who have signed sponsorship contracts, he said. That money will come in during the next few years and can help pay the loan.

And they have yet to spend any of the $10,000 a month that Toyota of Tri-Cities has donated for the project. In all, the company committed to donating $500,000 during the next three and a half years.

Van Winkle said that fundraising always will be a key role of the foundation. But the volunteer board plans to build up a trust fund after paying off the initial debt to keep the carousel spinning into the future.

Only half of the carousel's horses have been adopted, leaving about $2 million in sponsorship opportunities, Van Winkle said.

Currently, about one horse a month is being adopted and named by a donor. Most of the unsponsored horses range in price from $15,000 to $35,000.

The foundation also has 700 tiles still to be sold, which could generate another $200,000. The engraved tiles are part of the floor near the carousel. Medium tiles and large tiles are all that remain and start at $600.

He expects more people will donate once the carousel opens.

The foundation plans to use money from renting the carousel building to help pay the estimated $30,000-a-month operational expenses, Van Winkle said.

Already, 20 company parties, weddings, fundraisers and holiday events and a dozen birthday celebrations have been booked at the carousel through December.

Volunteers will be operating the carousel, at least at first. And more help is needed.

While about 1,000 Tri-Citians have volunteered on the carousel project in 14 years, only about 100 are active now, he said.

The foundation's operating committee meets at 6 p.m. every Wednesday in the banquet room of the carousel, and anyone interested in volunteering is welcome to come then, Van Winkle said.

For more information or to donate, go to www.carouselofdreams.net or call 509-585-8800.