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Editorial: Albany grabbed the brass ring with its carousel

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Gallery: Albany Carousel 16

Jackson, 1.5, and his mother Stephanie Dryden ride the carousel.

If you were to create a list of the seven wonders of the mid-Willamette Valley, you’d probably include Marys Peak, McDowell Creek Falls and the Memorial Union at Oregon State University — or if you’re thinking bigger, perhaps the entire campus.

Then there likely could be debate about what spots would qualify for such an exclusive group. The Benton County Courthouse and Willamette River likely would make the cut, but is Alsea Falls a redundancy if there’s already a set of waterfalls? Is Clear Lake or Blue Pool superior, or would you consider Foster Reservoir or Green Peter Reservoir instead?

Linn and Benton counties have so many magnificent locations to think about.

And a new contender has entered the conversation.

The Albany Historic Carousel and Museum marked its fifth birthday last week, and it’s arguably become the top destination in Albany. This is a gem of the mid-valley, a place you’d automatically tell family and friends about if they were visiting — and that’s especially so if they have young children.

The building itself is a marvel, but the horses and other hand-carved creatures are truly works of art. You want “wow” factor? The carousel has it and plenty to spare, and not just for kids. The shop inside even is reasonably priced with tons of cute stuff.

The carousel also is notable because it’s a monument to perseverance.

The dream for the building started in 2002 when Albany resident Wendy Kirbey visited Missoula, Montana and rode the carousel there, snagging the brass ring multiple times. She had a vision and recruited an army of volunteers to create Albany’s carousel. Raising $8.6 million for the project was a challenge, but a $4 million anonymous donation helped greatly. So did three cash infusions of urban renewal money totaling about $750,000 from the Central Albany Revitalization Area.

The latter bit has generated the most criticism of the carousel. Albany’s downtown urban renewal district siphons money from other taxing districts within its boundaries, and some residents argue that the improvements it funded haven’t been worth the costs. Whether you agree with that line of thinking or not, this is a fair argument.

However, downtown Albany is far better off than before, and if there’s one project that illustrates the benefits of public investment there, it is the carousel.

Rebecca Bond, executive director of the Albany Visitors Association, called the carousel an “anchor in our historic downtown” that serves as a “beacon for visitors.”

The carousel, to be sure, isn’t a magic bullet that solves all ills for the downtown area or Albany as a whole.

But to say it’s a huge draw is an understatement, and, again, it wouldn’t be there if urban renewal funding wasn’t provided.

An estimated 160,000 people visit the carousel each year, and those tallies are from a time period that featured 2½ years of a global pandemic, as well as one of the United States’ worst economic downturns. Regardless, if that figure holds true, that’s roughly 800,000 people every five years, which is an enormous boost to foot traffic and visitor spending in Albany, and not just downtown.

It’s safe to say that the carousel has probably generated more dollars for Albany than the CARA funding it received. After all, that would mean every visitor so far would only need to spend $1 outside the facility.

But as tourism has rebounded, the return of volunteers has been slower, and that’s understandable. Many volunteers are retirees who are concerned about their safety during a health crisis that has killed more than 1 million Americans.

If Albany residents love their carousel and want its positive economic ripples to continue, they need to step up and support the facility by donating their time.

Albany really grabbed the brass ring with the carousel. But five years of success isn’t enough. We need the beneficial impacts of this treasure for years and years.


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