HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Community members have spoken.
Out of the four options floated for the future of Hampton’s historic carousel, most favor the option that results in the least amount of change.
But now there is a fifth possibility and city leaders want to hear from the public again.
At Hampton City Council’s second April work session, city staff revealed that through its outreach program, the question was asked if moving the amusement to Bluebird Gap Farm was ever considered.
Guernsey Tingle architects explored the idea and has brought forward two additional proposals. One would place the carousel at Farm Entry Drive. The other would relocate the ride to inside the farm footprint.
City Manager Mary Bunting announced plans to hold additional public comment in June.
“Because the Bluebird Gap Farm came up kind of late in the process and because we have this new information, we’d thought it would be a good idea to give about a month for additional public consideration,” Bunting said.
The two options are estimated to cost between $2.6 million and $2.8 million. That doesn’t include costs for development of a city-owned miniature golf course also proposed alongside the carousel at Farm Entry Drive.
Bluebird Gap Farm is one of the city’s oldest parks. It sits opposite the Hampton Coliseum along Interstate 64 and has roughly 150 domestic and wild animals for people to visit on 60 acres.
Tom Tingle, president of Guernsey Tingle, said the strengths of relocating the carousel from its longtime home downtown to Bluebird Gap Farm include the ability to establish increased visibility, the creation of synergy with the farm and other area attractions such as the coliseum, the Aquaplex and Power Plant.
Weaknesses include the need for additional infrastructure, the possible limitations or farm hours and flood zone and wetlands constraints.
While City Council members didn’t have much to say following the latest briefing, Robin McCormick, the city’s communication manager, said people have been quite passionate about the carousel’s future.
Built back in 1920 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in Germantown, Pennsylvania, it was was used at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park until it closed in 1985. Its 48 hand-carved wooden horses and two hand-carved wooden chariots moved to its current location in Carousel Park on Settlers Landing Road in downtown Hampton in 1991.
A year later, the carousel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is believed it is one of only 170 functioning antique carousels still in the United States.
As part of Downtown Hampton Development Partnership’s future vision for downtown, a recommendation came to move the carousel from the park so it could redeveloped for more green space and allow for the carousel to be better protected from flooding.
Four options were proposed. One included keeping the current location and fixing up the building, one called for replacing the building in its current location. The other two called for relocation: one would move the carousel several blocks to Mill Point Park while the other would take the ride back to Buckroe Beach.
But McCormick said that following one in-person public input session with 60 people in attendance, and a Facebook Live with more than 1,000 engagements, that the consensus was clear.
“The vast majority of people said it should belong in its current location,” McCormick said. “They cited the triple draw of the Hampton History Museum, air and space, and carousel make it
ideal for school trips and for families.”
McCormick said people want the DHDP to consider designing a plan that includes the carousel in an upgraded park.
However, the city still wanted to look at Bluebird Gap Farm, knowing the draw to children there.
Bunting said she hopes City Council could land on a final decision soon.
“We would recommend that following (the June hearing), whether at that meeting or the July meeting that we make a decision one way or the another,” Bunting said. “We are sort of in limbo if we we would proceed with some of the park improvements, none of the park improvements or all of the park improvements.”
Meanwhile, the carousel has been closed since June because of repairs needed.
An inspection last summer found major issues with the supporting rods and the poles lifting the horses, according to the city. In a press release, they said continued operation would likely further damage the carousel and could cause injuries.