FDFA unveils plans for $2.5M carousel on former downtown Friendswood fire station

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The nonprofit Friends of Downtown Friendswood Association presented a multimillion-dollar project to reinvigorate a strip of South Friendswood Drive at the August 7 city council meeting.

FDFA President Brett Banfield unveiled a plan for a carousel plaza near Stevenson Park that could cost up to $2.5 million. The nonprofit has $500,000 to-date for the project and will begin fundraising efforts later this year after it reaches a land use agreement with the city.

“We feel like it’s a very exciting project to bring to downtown Friendswood,” Banfield said.

While the project is funded by the nonprofit, the organization is requesting the exclusive development rights to a plot of public property for the project.

The carousel plaza, which will be open to the public, will sit on the former site of fire station No. 1, which is between city hall and Stevenson Park. The Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department and Friendswood EMS relocated to a new station near the municipal courthouse off Whitaker Drive in early August. The station broke ground last year as part of the voter-approved 2013 bond referendum.

In January, city council designated the site as parkland for Stevenson Park.

“The mission of the project is to create a destination family venue with a nostalgic recreation experience that will promote the vitality of downtown Friendswood,” said Sherry Goen, chair of Keep Friendswood Beautiful who also presented the FDFA project.

City council must approve a memorandum of understanding with FDFA before the project can break ground on public land.

While no vote was taken on the work session item, council members gave permission for FDFA staff to approach city council to make strides on drafting a memorandum of understanding.

“Friendswood has a history of providing its citizens with the best amenities possible. Public-private partnerships are not new to Friendswood,” Goen said to city council. “We are looking tonight at another project, a legacy project, a once in a lifetime project. This new project is bold and will require collaboration from many groups including the city to make it a success.”

If an agreement is reached between both parties, FDFA plans on ordering the carousel in late 2017 with a build out date of 2020.

While some on council voiced interest in the project, council member Steve Rockey said that the city would have to weigh all land use options for the plot before it can consider giving FDFA exclusive development rights.

“We need to balance this project with what else it could be used for,” Rockey said. “Personally, I’d like to see it take the next step and bring back all the details.”

Banfield said that while the land could have other public uses, this project will come at no cost to the taxpayers.

“Who’s going to pay for that?” Banfield said about other public land uses. “[The carousel] is a gift to the city.”

Another concern was whether the carousel would compete for parking at Stevenson Park, particular during peak use.

FDFA will incur the cost of developing the site post-demolition of the fire station as well as maintenance and operation costs for the carousel. The focal point of the gated carousel plaza would be a covered carousel with handcrafted porcelain horses. Patrons would purchase tokens to ride the carousel. The carousel would be under a gazebo.

Preliminary plans for the plaza also include an outdoor concert venue, outdoor seating and benches, a large fountain and an oversized outdoor chess and checkers board. A concession stand could be added too.

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