Tuesday July 31, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is offering a $250,000 city grant to lure the Berkshire Carousel to downtown.

Bianchi's proposal before the carousel's board of directors is an attempt to counter their effort to set up the amusement ride at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough.

"Downtown Pittsfield is the right place for it," the mayor said. "We have the concentration of people to support it and we're making a concentrated effort to bring it here."

Organizers of the community-based project have been discussing with mall management the option of housing the carousel, which is scheduled to be ready by next summer, at the shopping complex.

All 34 handcrafted equestrian pieces must be finished by Dec. 15, according to Berkshire Carousel officials.
All 34 handcrafted equestrian pieces must be finished by Dec. 15, according to Berkshire Carousel officials. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Since March 2010, the carousel-building workshop has been operating -- rent free -- in 6,000 square feet of mall retail space.

Carousel co-founder and president Jim Shulman didn't comment on Bianchi's proposal in an email reply to The Eagle, saying there was nothing new to report on with regard to a Pittsfield location.

"Our focus has been on the completion of the carousel," he said. The grant offer grew out of several meetings Bianchi had the past two months with Shulman, downtown business leaders, other carousel board members and city officials.

If approved by the car ousel's board and the City Council, the funding would go toward the construction of a facility to house the merry-go-round at a yet-to-be-determined downtown location.

The carousel board would be required to at least match the $250,000 amount and provide plans and cost estimates for the building. In addition, the board must expand its membership and agree to create one new job and retain another for at least five years.

Bianchi believes city residents will support the grant offer.

"[The Berkshire Carousel] is the one topic that keeps coming up when I'm out talking to people," he said.

While city councilors John M. Krol Jr. and Christine Yon haven't seen the specifics of the grant proposal, they support the city's effort to land the project in Pittsfield.

"It gives a clearly defined carrot and stick for the situation," Krol said.

Yon noted, "I do realize it's called the ‘Berkshire Carousel', but we're the heart of the Berkshires."

Since the Berkshire Carousel was conceived seven years ago, Pittsfield has been the front-runner for the privately funded project.

A vacant lot at the corner of Church and Center streets in Pittsfield has long been considered the future home for the privately funded project. Shulman, a former Pittsfield resident who lives in Galena, Ohio, spent $350,000 to buy the empty parcel next to the CVS Pharmacy on Center Street.

However, organizers estimate they could spend up to $1.5 million -- of the project's estimated $2.5 million price tag -- to prepare the site and build an enclosed exhibit hall to allow the public to enjoy the amusement ride year-round.

They say that could be cost-prohibitive, as the more than $800,000 raised to date is covering the remaining $1 million to create the early 20th century-style carousel itself.

Meanwhile, more than 200 volunteer carvers, painters and sanders continue working on the wooden horses, having completed more than half of them. All 33 equestrian masterpieces, rounding boards and other aspects of the carousel, must be finished by Dec. 15, according to carousel officials.

Once completed, the hand-crafted items will be attached to the carousel's frame and mechanism currently under restoration, according to Shulman. He expects the 1928 Herschell frame, similar to the carousel that operated more than 50 years ago at Pontoosuc Lake, to be completely restored in March.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.