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Proposed St. Armands carousel receives mixed opinions

Ride Entertainment has proposed adding a circus-themed carousel to St. Armands Circle Park. No decision has made on the project.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. February 23, 2022
A conceptual carousel for St. Armands Circle Park from a February 2021 presentation. File image.
A conceptual carousel for St. Armands Circle Park from a February 2021 presentation. File image.
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Jen Horvat, a representative of Ride Entertainment, spoke to the City Commission on Tuesday afternoon about adding a carousel to St. Armands Circle Park, an idea that drew some positive response from the dais but not from residents of the area.

No decisions were made.

The idea was first proposed in February 2021 and revisited in June 2021, where it was met with controversy. Horvat gave additional details about the carousel on Tuesday, calling it a revenue opportunity for the city and its park systems.

“Our goal with this project is to create a wonderful entertainment opportunity that complements the city and brings awesome entertainment to all parties,” Harvat said. “It would extend the stay of visitors to the Circle and to activate a beautiful park.”

Ride Entertainment has developed similar attractions in other cities. The high-end carousels made by Ride Entertainment cost as much as $5 million.

Members of the St. Armands Residents Association sent a letter to City Hall, saying the attraction would not be welcome and said an association survey indicated 92% of respondents did not support the idea. 

Horvat said Ride Entertainment would be responsible for installation, marketing, payroll, ride operation, supplies, insurance, utilities and security. She emphasized that the carousel proposed for St. Armands Circle Park would be circus themed to fit the landscape already present.

“We would source the right carousel to fit the brand of St. Armands Circle,” Horvat said. “We know how important the brand is and how groups have worked to maintain the brand and its consistency on the Circle. We want to help promote it.”

If approved, the carousel would operate on a set schedule but would be available for private parties to rent. A system informing riders the time of which their ride will begin would be put into place to minimize traffic congestion and parking issues.

“We don’t believe people will come to the Circle just for the carousel,” Horvat said. “It’s supposed to be something that answers the need of many families. It would take up space that’s currently unusable.”

Horvat said additional ground measurements and tests are needed to ensure safety and ample space for the carousel. One issue she noted is that the proposed area for a queue currently holds standing water, which could call for putting the carousel on a pedestal.

While creating an appropriate theme for the carousel was a priority made by Horvat, Tom Leonard, a property owner on St. Armands Circle, brought up the issue of it potentially disrupting the atmosphere that the park currently has.

“The Business Improvement District is looking to add condominiums on the Circle, and I think that’s going to be approved,” Leonard said. “If you put a carousel in the park, who is going to want to listen to that through their windows?”

Amplified music was a top concern for Leonard, but he also said the carousel would be a major investment with a fixed and limited use. With the prime location of St. Armands Circle, Leonard worried that if it became undesirable the city would be stuck with it for many years.

He also said the carousel would be disruptive to parkgoers seeking a peaceful experience. He cited a lack of financial planning for the carousel’s parking lot and how it would financially benefit the city.

“The problem is that this isn’t something we can try for a year and give it back,” Leonard said. “This carousel is a multimillion dollar investment that could be there for 50 years. We’d have to live with this thing.”

Eight citizens spoke either against the carousel or asked for further study and evaluation before approving its construction. For Leonard, he suggested using a different location in Sarasota if the carousel must be built.

Commissioner Hagen Brody acknowledged the parking issues the carousel could bring to St. Armands Circle, but said he liked the idea. The carousel could bring revenue and more visitors to the area.

“You live in a destination, and I think there are some side effects to that. But I like the idea,” Brody said. “We’ve had to try to up the game of St. Armands by investing in the beach, streetscapes and sidewalks. We want to raise the game.

“I want to be perfectly clear with a vision for that. What we do in St. Armands has to be top-of-the-line in a beautiful, high-end area. I understand people not wanting the side effects of that, but there’s lots of benefits that come with this opportunity.”


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