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's 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 other two options he examined were actually 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 ballpark costs would be pretty 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 is to repair the carousel and its building for about $316,800, but it 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 Partnership envisions for that park: 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. A building is shown on the plan, noted Molly Ward who represented the downtown group, and is envisioned as a market on the first floor, restaurants above, and rooftop seating. It would definitely be publicly accessible and not be housing, she noted.
Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray noted that “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, now 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, noted Tingle: You can’t see inside to know what it is. Visitors don’t know it’s there, and no one can tell if it’s operating.
Originally at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park, it is one of only 170 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 guy 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 tend to require specialists and fabrication of parts, which take time. “Our intention is to repair it, but we have to wait our turn,” said Bunting.