Saturday, April 11, 2009

Another Turn at Carousel: Parks Dept. Searches for a New Operator for the Forest Park Ride by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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Parks Department officials give potential bidders a tour of the Forest Park Carousel. They're hoping to find a new concessionaire to operate the historic structure. Farriella for News

For the first time in 20 years, the historic Forest Park Carousel may sit out the summer.

The Parks Department needs someone to operate the hand-carved wooden carousel, which dates back to 1903. But so far, no one has stepped forward.

The current concessionaire, New York One LLC, is letting its contract expire. No one responded to the previous request for proposals issued by the Parks Department several months ago.

The agency has issued another request, due April 20.

Local residents and officials are worried the carousel, a rare jewel according to aficionados, will deteriorate.

"We know our carousel is special and we would like it to get special attention," said Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9. "We certainly can't let this fall into ruin like we did before."

Carousels have had a tough time finding a good home in Forest Park.

In 1966, a carousel located in the park burned down. It was replaced in 1972 by the current carousel crafted by Daniel Carl Muller, who is widely considered an early 20th-century master woodcarver.

But by the mid-1980s the structure fell into disrepair and was shuttered.

The carousel got a new life in 1989 when it reopened after a top-to-bottom restoration by artist Marvin Sylvor with the support of volunteers and the community.

Since then, several different operators have taken over. But it has failed to get the attention it needs, according to Maria Thompson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp.

"It looks so shabby. They don't take care of the property," said Thompson. "It's just unfortunate that this beautiful carousel, the jewel of Forest Park, is in such a bad state."

During a recent tour of the carousel, prospective operators got a look at its 49 majestic rides: horses, lion, tiger, deer and two chariots. But old snack bar equipment cluttered the back of the building, and one of the horses was missing.

New York One LLC, which operates several concession carts and Central Park's carousel, as well as the carousel at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, did not return a call for comment.

At a 2004 ceremony to mark the carousel's inclusion on the state and national registers of historic places, concessionaire Thomas Makkos told the Daily News that the Forest Park Carousel is "something special."

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe admitted that carousels are expensive to maintain and not big money-makers.

And even though the carousel is located just off busy Woodhaven Blvd. and Myrtle Ave., it doesn't have the kind of foot traffic that benefits the other carousels.

"We hope that we will find a concessionaire to operate it," Benepe said. "In a worst-case scenario, the city could work with a nonprofit to run it."

Benepe said the carousel needs to be properly marketed - a sentiment echoed by Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association.

"Any antique carousel from this period that is still operating is a treasure," Largent said.

"We need to be very diligent in their preservation and operation. It still remains to be a special experience that is enjoyed by the whole family."