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A gleeful gallop

With input from children, Hub looks to launch carousel on Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway

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By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / September 15, 2010

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After struggling to get family-centered attractions to stick, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway will soon have one that goes round and round.

The success of a rented carousel the past two years has inspired the greenway conservancy to commit to building its own by 2012, with a $1 million anonymous gift, to attract crowds under a colorful canopy designed with the help of Boston children.

“The purpose of the greenway is to have a space that is beautiful and lively and brings Boston together — a place where people can make memories,’’ said Nancy Brennan, executive director of the greenway conservancy, who plans to announce the carousel project today. “Nothing can be more popular for children and their families than a carousel.’’

The project is a bit of a breakthrough for the conservancy, which struggled amid the economic collapse and greenway neighbors’ reluctance to fund and win approval for major attractions. Two other major projects are now in the works — the new Armenian Heritage Park, where ground was recently broken, and the Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion, where a construction crew is building a 4,500-square-foot open-air facility that will be a new visitors’ information center.

In the last year, the conservancy has tried to boost offerings along the crescent of parks built along the path of the old elevated Central Artery, rolling out food trucks that hawk healthy fare, Wi-Fi service for laptop toters, new signs for tourists, patio chairs, and umbrellas for shade.

City officials say they have made strides on the greenway and promise more projects in the next five years.

Kairos Shen, the city’s chief planner, said the city is currently soliciting bids for Mary Soo Hoo Park near Chinatown on the greenway’s south end. By next year, work will begin on a new public market near the North End, with expanded space for Haymarket vendors.

“The city has been working on the capital investments and new parks and new facilities along the greenway along with the conservancy,’’ Shen said.

The carousel is being made possible with a $1 million commitment from an anonymous donor to the Boston Foundation. An initial $225,000 was recently released to the conservancy to get the design process started. The rest of the money will come later, after a public process that includes input from neighbors and community groups.

Over the next three months, youngsters will also have a chance to shape the carousel. Officials hope to target youngsters in schools and from the Children’s Museum to offer design ideas inspired by their surroundings and experiences. Officials say they’re open to wacky suggestions like those that inspired penguins and Komodo dragons on a carousel at the Akron Zoo, marine wildlife and sea monsters in Detroit, or the “Carousel of Happiness’’ in Nederland, Colo.

If Eli Lukens, a 4-year-old from Weymouth, got his way, however, the new carousel would stick to a more traditional design. “I like the horses,’’ he said shyly, after a ride on the carousel yesterday. “And I like the music.’’

A public meeting is planned next month, and details about whether the carousel should be seasonal or year-round may be discussed. The ride now operates from May through October.

“It is intriguing to think of what children would like to ride on that is quintessential of Boston and of the greenway,’’ said Brennan. “It should really be fun and we should know [their ideas] in three months.’’

Greenway users have had the past two years to warm up to the carousel. The conservancy has been renting one on a patch on the greenway, next to the planned pavilion and heritage park, in hopes of gauging its popularity. “You’d be amazed how much elderly women come down to here to use it,’’ said operator Patricia Richardson, a 63-year-old New Hampshire resident who collects the $3 tickets along with her husband, James.

A longtime amusement ride worker, James Richardson said many who come for the carousel — especially the children — love the lights, the slow ride, and the trill of the the merry-go-round organ. “You look at the smile on their faces on their first ride and their eyes light up,’’ he said.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.

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