For more than three years, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has struggled to find an operator for the iconic Forest Park Carousel.
Most recently, the third request for proposals (RFP) issued to solicit a concessionaire was unsuccessful. Parks officials said they received no viable proposals when they sent out the request last winter but were unwilling to say how many were submitted.
But it turns out that Parks did get at least one proposal from a veteran of New York City carousels. Sal Napolitano, who has spent the last forty years around carousels, says his proposal to run the Woodhaven attraction was turned down. He says he had no idea why parks rejected his plan.
“All of a sudden, I received a letter in the mail from the parks department after six months saying that the [it] was going to throw out all the proposals,” Napolitano explains, “and if they did it again, they would let me know.”
The Parks Department also refused to say why Napolitano’s proposal was rejected or why three calls for proposals haven’t been successful.
Now, Parks will move on to a fourth round of bidding. To entice more offers, Parks is installing a wrought-iron fence around the Forest Park Carousel to make the area more attractive.
Napolitano currently runs the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Carousel. He ran the Central Park Carousel for 14 years, and he attended site visits at Forest Park before submitting a proposal to run the location.
He’s especially frustrated because he hasn’t received any explanation from Parks about why his and other proposals were deemed “not viable.” His proposal would have had the Forest Park Carousel up and running — even if that meant taking a loss to get things going.
“I’m willing to spend my money. Nobody is going to give me any funds. I’m willing to use my own funds,” he says.
The last RFP bundled the carousels at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Forest Park together. Now the fate of two out of five remaining carousels in the city hangs in the balance.
The city’s contract with Napolitano at Flushing Meadows-Corona expires next year. He says he’s worried he and Queens will end up with nothing.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I love carousels,” Napolitano explains. Looking ahead to March when the contract at Flushing Meadows ends, he thinks for a moment and then says, “As of then, both carousels will be closed.”
The Forest Park Carousel holds some of the last surviving creations of master wood-carver Daniel Carl Muller. It contains 49 horses, a lion, a tiger, a deer, and two chariots arranged in three concentric circles. The carousel also contains an original carousel band organ. Today, only four other New York City parks operate carousels: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Central Park in Manhattan, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, and Willowbrook Park in Staten Island.
By Jeremiah Dobruck