Feb. 22, 2023 - Hampton City Council heard an estimate on potential moves of the Hampton Carousel, with the bottom line being that it will need to be moved if it is to be protected from flooding — if not now, then sometime in the not-too-distant future.
The ground elevation at the current location is 5-6 feet above sea level, said Tom Tingle, architect and president of Guernsey Tingle. The current building floor is 8.37 feet above sea level. That made sense when the building was constructed in 1991. However, the requirement for new construction currently is 11 feet above sea level.
The two potential new locations he examined were on higher ground: 8-9 feet at Mill Point Park near Eaton Street, and at Buckroe Beach, a block back from the water.
Tingle said he consulted with vendors, who told him it would be safe to disassemble the carousel and reassemble it in a new building. The estimated costs would be similar: $2.5 million for a new building at the existing location; $2.51 for Mill Point, and $2.8 million for Buckroe. At Buckroe, it would need need deeper foundations and increased structural strength to protect from high winds. The least expensive option — to repair the carousel and its current building for about $316,800 — would be a short-term solution, Tingle said.
City Council members agreed that the city should have a public input process before making any decisions. City Manager Mary Bunting suggested that staff could conduct one to two sessions of information for the public and input. Until this presentation, neither Council nor the public had the facts about the threat of flooding.
Council also heard what the Downtown Hampton Development Partnership envisions for the carousel's current location, on the waterfront next to the Virginia Air & Space Science Center: More green space where pavers are now; trees to create shade; terraces to help with flooding and to step residents down toward the waterfront. A pedestrian bridge would connect the Air & Space Science Center side of the inlet with The Landing side, and there would be a floating stage for concerts. Overall, it would be a much larger park and festival site than any other place downtown. Molly Ward, representing the downtown partnership, said a building is planned that would have a market on the first floor, restaurants above, and rooftop seating. It would be accessible to the public and would not be used for housing, she said.
Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray noted: “We should do something to protect that historic carousel. Leaving it alone is not an option.”
Councilman Steve Brown agreed: “We are still going to have to do what needs to be done to protect this historic structure.” The carousel, more than 100 years old, is considered a historic artifact and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A new building would solve other problems, Tingle said, such as making the carousel more visible to those nearby.
Originally at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park, it is one of only 170 functioning antique carousels still in the United States. The Hampton Carousel is a rare and beautiful example of American folk art. Its prancing steeds and stately chariots were painstakingly carved from fine-grained hardwood and painted by German, Italian and Russian immigrant artisans. It also has its original organ.
The carousel is currently closed, after an inspection last summer found major issues with the supporting rods and the poles lifting the horses. Continued operation would likely further damage the carousel, and could cause injuries, according to the report. Repairs for these rare carousels require specialists and manufacturing of parts. “Our intention is to repair it, but we have to wait our turn,” Bunting said.