Hudson River Park carousel gets go-ahead to go round in Chelsea


By Heather Murray

Green turtles, horseshoe crabs, a peregrine falcon, a black bear cub and even a butterfly-covered unicorn will soon make their home in Chelsea as part of a new carousel to be constructed on Pier 62 at the west end of 23rd St.

The Hudson River Park Trust signed off on a nearly half-million-dollar contract at its Sept. 25 board meeting for Ohio-based company Carousel Works to build and install a 36-foot-diameter carousel with 33 wooden figures and a wheelchair-accessible oyster chariot.

While the carousel itself will cost $482,477, Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, noted that the contract for the carousel building still needs to be awarded, which she expects to happen in December at an estimated cost of about $2 million. The target date for the carousel and building completion is March 2010.

The carousel concept came from architectural designs of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. But the unusual cast of carousel characters was the board’s idea.

“We knew we didn’t want a traditional horse merry-go-round,” Fishman said.

The board worked in conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to choose animals that are native to the Hudson River Valley.

Carousel Works already offers its customers more than 140 animals, insects and reptiles to choose from, in addition to the traditional horses, but many of the Trust’s and D.E.C.’s requests for the carousel are new for the company and will be custom-made.

Carousel Works has seahorses and harbor seals in stock, but not cormorants, crawfish, beavers, toads, Atlantic sturgeon, green turtles, bluebirds, striped bass, blackfish, mallard and black ducks — and certainly not a butterfly unicorn. That creature grew into being out of the Trust’s original desire to include a monarch butterfly on the carousel. Fishman said she was told that designing the butterfly would prove difficult.

“So we put a unicorn in there — everyone wanted one fanciful thing — and covered it with butterflies,” she said.

Carousel Works was chosen from a shortlist of six carousel manufacturers and has already produced other well-known carousels in the five boroughs, including an insect-themed one at the Bronx Zoo in 2005 and a traditional horse carousel for Willowbrook Park in Staten Island in 1999.

At the meeting, Trust board member Henry Stern called the carousel “an enormous bargain,” before factoring in the cost of the building. He said he has heard of carousel prices coming in at up to 10 times what the one at Pier will cost.

Stern asked whether the Trust would consider looking for donors to sponsor each of the carousel animals, which was done successfully with the Battery Park Conservancy, where the animals “go for $100,000 a piece,” he said. “It’s a unique giving opportunity.” The Battery Park carousel is planned to open next fall.

Just north of Chelsea Piers, Pier 62 was formerly used for roller-skating for the piers and has always been more activity-driven than neighboring piers in the park’s new Chelsea Cove section.

Other plans for Pier 62 include a skateboarding and inline-skating area, and an open plaza at the pier’s end.

“I think it’s very good and very educational — and why not?” said Robert Trentlyon, founder and president of Chelsea Waterfront Park Association, of the carousel concept.

He questioned whether there would be a fee to ride on the carousel, noting there had been discussion of that years ago.

“The carousel in Central Park has a modest fee,” he noted. “I think it’s something everyone can afford.”

Fishman agreed that most carousels require a small fee, but noted that Pier 62’s wouldn’t be any more than Central Park’s, which costs $2, according to the park’s Web site.