POTTSTOWN >> After 16 years, the Carousel at Pottstown will open to the general public Sunday — and one of the first visitors will be Santa.
The carousel, located at 30 W. King St. across from Memorial Park, will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. and Santa will be available for photos for just $5.
Every photo comes with a free ride on the Carousel as well. Carousel rides are $2.
“This community has just given us so much in making this project a reality, that we wanted to say thank you during this season of giving,” said George Wausnock, the president of the non-profit Carousel at Pottstown group that has doggedly pursued this project for more than a decade.
“For a long time now, I have felt like the Pope watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel and asking ‘when will it be done?’” Wausnock joked.
“We made it,” Vice President Bev Reber said with an evident sense of relief.
Wednesday, as the opening approached, volunteers and contractors scurried around the building — once home to Pottstown Metal Weld — putting last-minute touches on the interior, the final phase of the project.
That interior is dominated by the Derek Scott Saylor Memorial Carousel, re-named and rebuilt from the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. No. 9, which was built in 1905 and last saw service in the Twin Grove Amusement Park in Pine Grove, Schuylkill County.
The three rows of animals, hand-carved at cost by Disney carousel carver Ed Roth, were sanded, primed and painted over the years by a team of volunteers.
“Each animal took between 250 and 350 man-hours to complete,” said Wausnock. “And when people ask me why this took so long and I tell that, they begin to understand.”
All but four of those animals have been sponsored. (Sponsorships are $4,000).
That and other sponsorships, like Pottstown Memorial Medical Center sponsoring a hand-carved chariot for handicapped riders, along with a string of special events — most notably 13 years of the popular Carousel of Flavor restaurant festival — have helped raise more than $1 million from local donors.
Other elements that have sponsored include hand-painted panels depicting scenes from Pottstown’s past.
The carousel itself, initially appraised at $25,000 when it was purchased, now has a value of over $1 million.
Another $1.3 million has come from Montgomery County, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Borough of Pottstown.
And although the borough owns the building and leases it to the carousel organization for $1, Wausnock has pledged the carousel “will not be a burden on taxpayers” and the organization will pay its full tax bill.
Further, once all expenses and taxes are paid, the organization intends to plow any remaining profits into a revitalization fund for Pottstown.
Of course to do that, it needs to start making money, but things are looking up on that horizon.
In addition to simple rides on the carousel, the real money for a facility like this is in booking special events.
For years the organization has fielded inquiries from those interested in using the facility for birthday parties, weddings, reunions, and all manner of meetings.
Finally, the answer to the perennial inquiry “are you taking reservations yet?” can be “yes.” And already, the bookings are rolling in.
“Once word started to get out that we were going to open, we got 14,000 hits on our web site in about a week,” said Reber, who is currently in charge of booking those events.
The best way to book an event is through the organization’s website — www.pottstowncarousel.org — or by calling 610-323-6099 and leaving a message.
After Sunday’s soft opening, a number of those special events will be held at the carousel, and it will open again for regular rides starting Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.
“We’ll be open Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays, from 12 to 5 p.m.,” said Reber.
“We want to thank all of the Pottstown area for everyone’s patience,” said Wausnock. “Believe me, it has been as hard for us as it has been for you, but we wanted to make sure we did this right, and created a genuine quality attraction for the borough and the region.”
Because the population in a 10-mile radius around the carousel is more than 1 million people, the group’s business plan anticipates between 250,000 to 350,000 visitors a year.
As part of Pottstown’s TREC (Tourism & Recreation) District, the Carousel opening also adds momentum to the popularity of Manatawny Green mini-golf, Pottsgrove Manor, the Colebrookdale Railroad’s Secret Valley Line, Trilogy BMX Park, Memorial Park, the splash park there, the Schuylkill River Trail, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and its “River of Revolutions” display and the art galleries and other facilities of the Montgomery County Community College’s west campus — all within walking distance of each other and downtown Pottstown.
“There are just so many people we should thank, our volunteers, the borough, the county, all our donors, I can’t name them all for fear of leaving someone out,” Wausnock said. “We just hope they all know how much we appreciate everything they’ve done and contributed to this project and know that we plan to give back.”