Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto summed up his thoughts as the hearing on the proposed carousel for Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park ended at about midnight on Tuesday, May 23. Several people left before speaking, but the supervisor said that the town welcomed communication on the issue by letter, fax or email. He said, "What we are doing is taking all information and will deliberate on where all this goes." He added, "What I'm happy about especially is when both sides speak so eloquently. When I asked MSA [Main Street Association] if they felt so passionate about the carousel would they be agreeable to a meeting for the sides to present their cases. They didn't blink an eye and did it."
"Reasonable people can come together. You all have the best interests of the town at heart. This has been orderly and civilized. I don't think the town could ask for more cooperation from its residents," Mr. Venditto said.
Seated in the Oyster Bay Town Hall on Tuesday, May 23, the environmentalists sat on the left and the carousel developers sat on the right. Liz Roosevelt, a descendant of TR and a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association executive board spoke against the park as a site for the carousel. She presented the board with a photograph of the proposed site showing that it was flooded in November 2005, and that the flooding wasn't the result of a hurricane. Ms. Roosevelt began the meeting on the right side and after speaking, switched sides and sat behind Marie Knight, president of the Oyster Bay Civic Association. As the last speaker of the night, Ms. Knight asked the board for equal time to present her group's proposal to restore the park to its former horticultural beauty - but without a carousel.
While the carousel proposal is aimed at downtown revitalization by bringing in people from outside the area to visit a Town of Oyster Bay park, the civic association proposal aims to change the parking in the downtown area to revitalize the hamlet and to restore the original landscape beauty of the design of the park.
The civic association has been working on restoring TR Park for the past three years and were instrumental in bringing back the TR Park Advisory Committee, required by the deed, but which has not met for some time.
One of the important issues, Ms. Knight said, in deciding the future of the park is that no federal funds were used to purchase the land and that it was given to Town of Oyster Bay residents. Residents pay a fee to enter and park there, although people walk in without paying, through the entrance near the old Oyster Bay Train Station.
In introducing the "novelty hearing," Mr. Venditto said there was a divided opinion in town about the carousel - between those who are sponsoring it and those, to whom the word carousel is like "fingernails on a black board."
He told some of the history of the Main Street Association's Carousel Committee and that they originally wanted to restore Nunley's Carousel. A huge uproar awoke in the county and it is now planned for Baldwin, it's original site. MSA tried for two other carousels before deciding on tailoring one to Theodore Roosevelt's life. Mr. Venditto said it would be financed by the private sector, and may tie the park to the downtown area. The carousel would tell the educational story of Colonel Roosevelt, and the history of the town, he said. Since there is a difference of opinion on the carousel, Mr. Venditto asked MSA if they were passionate about the proposal, to put it up to public scrutiny, adding, "If government exists for any reason, it is to listen to the citizens. He introduced Bill Sheeline, president of MSA who said a lot of people have worked very hard on the project, which was evident by the number of people who spoke from their group. Mr. Sheeline gave a view of why MSA was involved in a revitalization project in the hamlet starting in the early '60s and '70s when the malls arrived on the scene and ended when Foodtown, the anchor supermarket in the area, moved to Pine Hollow. "It hollowed out downtown," he said.
Norman Parsons, Theodore Roosevelt Association president, was on the committee for the SEA Fund Advisory Committee, to preserve open space, said Mr. Venditto as he introduced him. Mr. Parson said, "Our involvement in the development of the carousel is not as an advocate but, to ensure whatever is done is consistent with the park, continuing to be a suitable memorial to Theodore Roosevelt and his desire that the park be available for public use." He said, "Although, not all members of the TRA fully support the carousel, the concept of a carousel was presented to the Theodore Roosevelt Association Executive Board by the late John Gable and was approved with the conditions that the building and its operation be done in a tasteful manner; avoiding a "carnival atmosphere"; that the need for additional security in the park be resolved and that the proposal will upgrade the appearance and maintenance of the park. He also asked that a camera security system be installed and asked that in order to reduce the serious flooding in the picnic area adjacent to where the carousel would be located, that the town place fill in the flood area.
Mr. Parsons said, "We are particularly pleased with the educational component that is being developed with staff from the Sagamore Hill National Park Service, the Theodore Roosevelt Association staff and the town historian. Our expectation is that the carousel will be enjoyed by children and their families and by individuals; and the park will get a face-lift and continue to honor the memory of Colonel Roosevelt."
The next speaker to talk was Charles Markis, chief interpreter of Sagamore Hill, who had an answer to those who try to speak for TR saying that as a conservationist he would be against putting a carousel in the park - as the deed currently states. Mr. Markis said, "We at Sagamore Hill are frequently asked what Theodore Roosevelt, the conservationist would say or do in regard to contemporary events. I have a standard reply...We are unable to think for dead people and dead people do not have thoughts."
He chose instead to look at Theodore Roosevelt, the adventurer. He gave a famous TR quote regarding his last trip - his last adventure - of exploring Brazil, "I had to go, it was my last chance to be a boy," he said. TR was always ready for adventure, said Mr. Makris.
He said, "TR's discovery, exploration and adventure is a central theme that the Committee of Scholars: John Hammond, historian, Town of Oyster Bay; John Staudt, Ph. D., executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association; Libby O'Connell, Ph. D. historian, The History Channel; and I, Charles Markis, chief of interpretation, education and visitor services at Sagamore Hill, have agreed upon as a basis to build the interpretive program of what will be a tasteful and educational addition to the park.
"The Theodore Roosevelt-Oyster Bay Carousel is envisioned as a children's book come to life in a complete audio-visual-movement experience which would appear at first glance to have a period 19th century feel, but will become a magical educational adventure when it begins to go around, transporting the riders to a world of discovery."
He said, "The décor of the carousel consists of panels and cartouches containing period illustrations from the books and literary magazines of TR's day. These illustrations and panels, perhaps like the portraits in the Harry Potter books, will move and change as if by magic-perhaps morphing by projection on LCD screens into pictures or scenes from TR's life, Oyster Bay, etc. when the carousel moves, demonstrating TR's adventures and life-perhaps planting the history seed in many kids' minds." He asked, "Are we ready to discover and explore? Are we ready for adventure?"
"I certainly hope so. It will provide for many of us another chance to be a child," concluded Mr. Makris.
Carousel architect Joseph E. Reilly, Jr., AIA, Reilly + Associates presented a rendering of the proposed carousel building and created a word picture of the plan with great enthusiasm. The building would be 35 ft. high and is 65' x 65', 4,500 sq. ft., the size of a house, he said. It would be located on a plaza that will have a free-standing ticket booth. The carousel would use the current bathrooms on the site, he said, adding that they are stainless steel, state-of-the-art. The carousel building would open on three sides with panels that move to reveal the ride. The height of the carousel in the center is about 20 to 22 ft. The site is on a flood plain, and while the building would have needed to put in four feet of fill, they are instead putting the carousel on a set of steps about 2.6 to 3 ft. high so that they will need only about one foot of fill. He said, "The town doesn't say we have to raise the building above the flood plain - we are doing it because of Liz Roosevelt."
The carousel would not be open in the winter nor will it be air-conditioned but will be self cooling with the motion of the carousel - there is no heating planned at present.
"This is the community taking back the park, making it safe. I grew up in Saratoga, and Congress Park has a carousel and is the most magnificent place. When I grew up there it was a blighted space and indigents were there, and there was crime. These are proven principles. We are not re-inventing the wheel. This is really simple. This is a simple way to take back our park, we the people and it will be privately funded. I've seen it with my own eyes - these planning principles and carousels put into full effect - or I wouldn't propose it for the hamlet of Oyster Bay. But it's true," said Mr. Reilly in a telephone interview.
The plan calls for a wrought iron gate into the park at the location of the new entrance. He said they have met with the DOT and the LIRR and that there will be hearings on the proposed changes. [It may need a crossing upgrade to follow current safety regulations.] One of the advantages of the proposal, Mr. Reilly said at the meeting, is that the carousel and the Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum are part and parcel together.
They propose a pedestrian walkway from Firemen's Field where carousel visitors will park, past the current entrance to the proposed entrance at the foot of Audrey Avenue which will connect the town with the waterfront. There will be a Nassau County police booth located next to the marina parking lot.
Tracy Dellomo, Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Group, a committee member said the proposed operation of the carousel will be seasonal, April through November, within the current hours of the park including school holidays. She said, "Presently 60,000 visitors come annually to Sagamore Hill, 10,000 to Raynham Hall and over 150,000 people attend Oyster Fest over two days. Both the Staten Island carousel and the Greenport carousels report rider-ship of 125,000 per year. Since this is not a downtown location in a resort community, we have projected ridership at approximately 60,000 riders per year. Keep in mind that traditionally carousel riders have multiple rides as reported by other operating carousels. Therefore, 60,000 riders do not represent 60,000 different people."
She said, "We expect to generate approximate revenue of $120,000 per year based on a ticket price of $2/ride or three rides for $5. Our projected expenses are approximately $84,000 per year and we would be prepared to reinvest any surplus revenue back into the park, after we are comfortable we will not need the surplus for the next year's operation. Carousel revenues are sensitive to both economic conditions and weather conditions as reported by the operations we interviewed. We are confident the carousel can support itself economically as do the operations we interviewed."
Mr. Sheeline said they project the carousel as costing $2.5 million of which $1.2 million is pledged. Billy Joel is a prime financial backer of the carousel which will be self-sustaining.
Ms. Dellomo said, "Our expenses include all on-going maintenance costs of the carousel as well as salaries for 3 workers during operations. We have concluded that we would require two workers and one supervisor to run the carousel safely and have included the associated salaries in our budget. We have very good projections on all other costs including insurance costs that we gathered directly from vendors and the other carousels operating in the tri-state area." She added, "We spent many hours interviewing other carousel operators and feel fully confident of the carousel's viability in the park."
The hearing on May 23 at town hall was opened to speakers after the Main Street Association had made its presentation. The first speaker was Fran Leone, who has been working toward the restoration of the park for many years as a member of the Oyster Bay Civic Association's TR Park Restoration Committee. She said, her group was against the carousel proposal that uses open land while the town has recently used tax money to acquire open land. She said, "TR Park is not a place to build a carousel on - we have open space here - why build on it." She has been working with the town to clean up the park. [See her letter to the editor.] She added there is a need for a comprehensive plan for the park adding, "We don't have to consider a carousel to make the park 'drop dead gorgeous' it is already there. Let's preserve open space at the TR Park. We have the bay that is a jewel and part of the reason we live here." There was applause for her speech.
Judy Barnett, Oyster Bay Civic Association secretary spoke on her own behalf saying she was opposed to the carousel on grounds of TR being a conservationist and more. She said, "Theodore Roosevelt had the understanding and foresight to see the need for folks to be able to have a place to go just to take a quiet walk along the shore, watch a regatta, to reflect upon their own thoughts, read a book or just to enjoy what nature and God gave us.
"Why do we have to be entertained and connected with the rest of the world 24 hours a day whether is be a cell phone, ipod, a blackberry or some other device which causes a great deal of stress and anxiety... Wouldn't it be nice just to have someplace to escape to four an hour or two. Silence is golden," she concluded.
Carousel Committee member Clair Bellerjeau spoke as a merchant and a resident. She spoke of the difficulties of running a business in a town with low foot traffic. She said, "I believe this vision will breath life into the hamlet." She designed a tour guide, funded by MainStreet that takes people around the village to all the historic TR sites which include his office in the Moore's building, at the Octagon Hotel; the Presbyterian Church and Christ Church, among others.
Carousel Committee member Patsy Randolph of the Rausch Foundation, a group interested in downtown revitalization supported the carousel concept to bring families back to the downtown and the park. She said, as a local resident she brought her children as youngsters to the Bonanza stand and to watch the firemen practice at Firemen's Field but said, "She had not once considered going into the park - it was too foreign. It was an opportunity lost for me and my children."
Carla Panetta remembered the park fondly saying, "I used the park all the time with my children." The open fields let her have a straight line of site to watch them as they played in the park - without a building obstructing the view as the proposed carousel would. She said the town recently bought about three acres of open space at the Mill Pond property and added that it seemed hypocritical to spend tax money on buying open space and then giving up existing open space. She said the carousel is a great idea, just not building it on existing park open space land. She added, "Kids need to move and get exercise in the park to play, run, swing and teeter-totter; the park is free now - "A trip to the park with the carousel would then cost upwards of $10?" she added.
Ms. Panetta said the eastern waterfront plan has not been established and it might be a better location for a carousel.
Carousel Committee member Rich Cieciuch, who won a TR oratory contest as a youth, spoke as the owner of Rich-Bern Travel of Oyster Bay. He said, it is in his role of father and grandfather that the carousel thrills and electrifies him.
Carousel Committee member John Specce spoke as a member of MSA, the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum in favor of the carousel. He views the carousel as opening the waterfront area in a way that will increase tourism and business in the hamlet.
Gary Farkash, a board member of the Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum said they endorse the carousel concept, the realignment of the entrance and sees the projects as synergistic.
Paige Dawson, a director of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce favored the carousel. She said school children will come here and then bring their parents. W. Adam Mandelbaum, Esq. said he too was in favor of the carousel, adding it will be good for town merchants. John Bonifaccio, who moved to Oyster Bay four years ago, was in favor of the carousel.
Bill Sharkey of Hicksville, a member of the National Carousel Association said he too was in favor of the carousel, adding "How many towns can say 'we have a president' as a resident."
TRA Executive Board member Elizabeth Roosevelt said, "My cousins had a lot to do with setting up the park." She showed a picture of the picnic area that was flooded - without a hurricane, under a couple of feet of water. "It should go somewhere else not there. I know the MSA put a lot of work into this but I really don't think it's a good idea."
Bob Liebold of Gooseberry Grove, an ice cream store said as a business owner, "Anything that can help would be great. One of the most asked questions is 'which way is the water'." He said the carsousel would make the answer easy.
Joan Mahon, MSA executive director read a letter from George O'Neill, president of the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay saying he supported the carousel. She said the carousel will make the town more lively.
Caroline DuBois said she was opposed to putting the carousel in TR Park as it is not an appropriate use of open space adding that there is very limited space around the harbor.
John McGrane of the Oyster Bay Marine Center called the evening, "A wonderful, happy night since something positive might happen as a result of it. Not much happens here which is not bad - it makes it a special place." He said when boaters come to Oyster Bay and ask how to get to the downtown area - they get lost. "If we can say - go to the carousel and walk into town - that will make a positive impression."
He said, "It is consistent with TR's character of doing it for kids. I hope it goes through."
Jim Foote, TR impersonator said he liked the plan, especially that "They are teaching by default: lessons are being taught when they are having a good time."
Greg Burton, of Total Equips, a new business in the hamlet was thrilled with the carousel proposal.
Ed Minicozzi, was in favor of the carousel as "A local resident, a boat owner and a major property owner in the hamlet." He had reasons in each category and said, if the proposal is approved by the town they will work with them and change the apartments on Audrey Avenue leading to the park, to storefronts. "We're willing to work with Main Street in any way, as a business owner, resident and boater."
Scott Miller urged support of the carousel saying, "If we do nothing, nothing will change. The community wants to prosper, the community wants to get better." He praised the recent moratorium on residential building, although he is a developer.
Bruce George Starkie said what the carousel did for Greenport it can do here.
Marie Knight was the last speaker. She read a letter from Barbara Comstock whose mother was the first curator of Sagamore Hill. Ms. Comstock was against the carousel, saying she remembered the park from her childhood as being beautifully landscaped. "That is what a park is meant to be - not an amusement park."
Ms. Knight based her objections to the carousel to the deed which says, "No carousel or mechanical amusement facility" can be in the park. She asked that the town give her group equal time to present their park proposal.
Town Board member Angelo Delligatti said, "The deed restrictions have to be researched thoroughly. It will be. It is an issue."
Ms. Knight added that she heard that the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce was against the carousel. Someone yelled out "no," and Supervisor Venditto said, "We don't need any help" in running the meeting" and suggested the person address the board saying that they supplied the ground rules.
Later Mr. Specce returned to the microphone and said the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce did not take a formal vote but said he did an informal poll of the 12 board members and seven were in favor; two were opposed; two abstained; one was out of the country.
That was when Mr. Venditto called the hearing closed.