'Carouselgate' could mean Centreville carousel won't be leaving, at least for now

The mayor of Carmel, Indiana wants to bring Centreville's vintage carousel to his city, but faces opposition on city council. Amusement park owners say they need the money to pay down their debt, which was made worse by flood damage and lost revenue this season.

Deal to sell 110-year-old carousel could fall through due to political opposition in Carmel, Indiana

Centreville Amusement Park has a tentative deal worth $3 million to sell this carousel to the city of Carmel in Indiana. But the purchase has run into political trouble. (Barry Smith/ CBC News)

Centreville's century-old carousel might be staying put, at least for now, while the debate over whether or not to go through with the sale goes around and around in the U.S. city that made the deal to buy it.

Officials from the city of Carmel, Indiana — located just north of Indianapolis — approached Toronto Island's Centreville Amusement Park with a $3-million offer to buy the 1907 Dentzel carousel, which has been a popular attraction on the island since 1966.

But it turns out the offer was made without the approval of Carmel's city council and those opposed to using part of the proceeds of a bond issued by the city to buy it are now calling the controversy "Carouselgate."

"I have no objection to bringing the carousel, but it's just a matter of using public funds," said Ed Shaughnessy, a resident who is campaigning for more financial accountability.

The city is about to float a $101 million US bond to fund a mega-project to redevelop the city's downtown, which will include the construction of a luxury hotel.

Part of the plan earmarks $5 million US to buy Centreville's carousel, move and refurbish it, buy land for it and construct a building to house it. 

Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana would like to buy and move Centreville's historic 110-year-old carousel to his city, where it would be part of a revitalized downtown. (City of Carmel)

Now the project, which is championed by the city's mayor Jim Brainard, is coming under fire from those who are concerned that property taxes will go up if the city doesn't have enough revenue to pay back the bonds.

Shawnda Walker, Centreville's director of marketing, said while they have a purchase and sale agreement with the city of Carmel, it's not finalized.

"It's like when you sell a house. There are conditions you have to meet and there's a deadline for that," she said.

A statement posted on the city of Carmel's Facebook site said media reports that the purchase of the carousel was a "done deal" are not true.

"This offer to purchase has always been contingent on approval of funding by the Carmel City Council," the statement says.

A screen capture of the purchase agreement between the city of Carmel and the company that owns the Centreville Amusement Park. Carmel city council must approve the sale by Oct. 31 for it to go through. (City of Carmel)

A screencapture of the purchase agreement states the city will "act in good faith to make the appropriation before October 31, 2017."

The city of Carmel declined CBC Toronto's request for an interview, but it's been reported in the The Indianapolis Star that five of seven city council members have come out against using public funds to buy the carousel.

The paper also quoted Mayor Brainard as saying he would like to see a funding scheme for the deal that would meet with council's approval.

As for Walker, she says there's little Centreville can do but wait and see. She said the amusement park needs the money to lessen the impact of $6 million worth of flood damage and another $8 million in lost revenue this summer.

"That's a huge amount of money to recoup for a small, privately-owned business that is seasonal," Walker said, adding the park has had other "nibbles" from potential buyers that they could pursue if the deal does fall through.


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.