Carousels can be make your head spin and so can the decision to build a new one on the Greenway. As announced this week in the Boston Globe and the Greenway Conservancy’s blog, an anonymous donor is contributing $1 million that will be used to build a new carousel for the Greenway, replacing the concession that exists today between Faneuil Hall and Christopher Columbus Park on Parcel 14.
Let’s do the math. The Conservancy’s blog tells us that about 90,000 kids enjoy the carousel each year. Tickets are $3 per ride, so that totals a healthy $270,000 in gross revenues. The existing concession covers the capital costs, maintenance and operational expenses and the Conservancy makes about $50,000 – $70,000 per year from a piece of ticket sales.
Here is the big question: Why spend a million dollars for a carousel that already exists today at no cost? An owned carousel would increase revenues by eliminating the concession, however, the Conservancy would also take on the substantial labor, maintenance and operational costs. Let’s be optimistic and say that today’s estimated $60,000 in net cash flow to the Conservancy doubles to $120,000 after spending the million dollars to build and operate a new carousel. It would take over 16 years for the incremental cash flow to make back the $1 million capital cost. You can play with the numbers, but there really is no scenario where this makes sense.
Perhaps more relevant than the cold numbers is the lack of public benefit from building a new one. Remember, half of the Conservancy’s $5.2 million budget comes from the State. Are there no projects on or off the Greenway where a million dollars would be better spent? How about restrooms? How about gardens? How about a playground or tot lot? How about covering the ramps?
Here is an idea: Lower the carousel ticket price to 25 cents. Folks seem to like the carousel. So do I. But, when the price is over $1 per ride for a few minutes, no family is going to use it very often. The addition of public infrastructure for kids or families that can be used for free, carousel or otherwise, would enhance the Greenway and the adjacent neighborhoods. This point seems lost in this debate.
I must have been spun around too many times because there was little debate on these crucial questions at this week’s Greenway Leadership Council meeting. Nearly everyone in attendance was tripping over themselves to offer complementary remarks. A few questions from the advisory leadership council members as to how these decisions are being made were put off to the future “community meetings.” It was announced by Conservancy executives that these meetings will be highlighted by important discussions on the types of animals and theme colors for the new carousel.
What does $1 million buy? Conservancy executives said they are still working the numbers, but they believe that a million dollars does not buy much more of a carousel than exists there today. The new carousel will be pretty much the same in terms of size and scale (34 feet in diameter with 32 characters) as the existing one, but it will be customized and “themed” instead of the traditional horses. Conservancy executives said the new carousel would not look “plunked down” and they plan some landscaping and surrounding changes.
The Conservancy is hiring several experts for this project, not to mention paying themselves. The Conservancy has identified Jeffrey Briggs Design for the carousel. The design team includes Utile Inc., the NY firm recently worked on the Harbor Islands Pavilion and the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Greenway Development Guidelines. The landscape architecture will be done by Reed Hilderbrand and engineering by Simpson Gumpertz Hefer, all heavy hitters. Of course, let us not forget the Conservancy personnel that will help fund their own compensation from this project. As previously reported, they are not cheap. Let’s remember folks, this is a small carousel not the Empire State Building.
The anonymous $1 million donor came through the Boston Foundation who sent a representative to the meeting. He said the idea of a carousel came through discussion with the Conservancy. It was clear that this project and the leak to the Globe had been long in the planning process.
GLC members were told a few weeks ago via teleconference about the carousel and donation. Peter Gori spoke for the BRA, supporting the project while noting the carousel on Boston Common has not been much of a success.
In terms of location, the Conservancy has determined that it should either be located at Parcel 14 (where it is today) or slightly south on Parcel 16.
To sum up, my view is to keep the existing carousel that cost nothing, lower the ticket price, give neighborhood children free rides, add some landscaping to make it fit in better with perhaps a nice white picket fence instead of the steel barriers. But most importantly, use the $1 million donation for something that actually provides a new public benefit.
In other business, the Greenway Leadership Council discussed the following issues.
Through an in-kind contribution by Boston Properties, developer of the Russia/Atlantic Wharf tower, the Conservancy will makes irrigation and pathway repairs on Parcel 21 across from the Intercontinental Hotel & Residences. The Conservancy calls this Fort Point Channel South while others refer to it as the Greenway Gardens. Remediation will add drains, improve irrigation and add new sod.
Business Improvement District
The Conservancy is starting an 18 month process to establish a Business Improvement District (BID) for the Greenway similar to that proposed for Downtown Crossing. Commercial business owners will be asked to pay a special tax to fund maintenance and capital improvements on the Greenway. Funds are targeted to be roughly 30% of the total Conservancy budget. The next step is for the City Council to hold a hearing.
Mary Soo Hoo Park Redesign
The redesign for Mary Soo Hoo Park in Chinatown has been postponed because the BRA failed to acquire a piece of land from a family trust. A smaller redesign is expected to be proposed in the coming months. Chinatown residents in attendance were very disappointed with the news. Separetly, a Chinatown group asked the Conservancy to consider a statue of a famous cultural figure on the Greenway near the Chinatown gate in preparation for a 2011 celebration.
See the community calendar for all upcoming meetings.