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Merry-go-round operator negotiates new terms for Inner Harbor attraction

Slow sales and an isolated location hamper new carousel company brought in by the mayor

Above: The new carousel at the Inner Harbor was opened a year ago.

Faced with fewer riders than expected, the Inner Harbor’s new carousel operator has been given a financial break by the city.

The Rawlings-Blake administration has dropped the operator’s fixed annual rent from $50,000 to $10,000, with additional payments required if gross revenues exceed certain limits.

“The new structure offers more flexible payment terms that combine fixed rent and percentage rent,” said Joann T. Logan, spokesperson for the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC).

Under the modified terms, Charm City Carousel Entertainment LLC will pay the city 25% of gross revenues between $40,000 and $250,000, and 30% of gross revenues in excess of $250,000. This means the operator has to reach a $200,000 revenue threshold in order to reach the previous rental figure.

The Stevensville-based company took over carousel operations last year after the prior operator, Richard H. Knight, failed to pay rent for nearly a decade, according to the city. Knight had started the carousel in 1981 at the behest of Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who wanted family-oriented entertainment at his newly created Inner Harbor.

Other Attractions Nixed

The location of the carousel, then and now, has been considered a hindrance to operations. Sandwiched between the Maryland Science Center and Rash Field, the facility lacks a food stand, rest rooms and other amenities. It backs against a parking lot on Key Highway.

In the best of times, Knight’s merry-go-round brought $100,000 in revenues, but annual sales were no more than $25,000 in its latter years, according to a 2012 Brew story.

Following the collapse of Knight’s operations – his historic Herschel Spillman merry-go-round had deteriorated badly – BDC officials signaled that the carousel concept might be scrapped.

“There have been discussions for years that the south side of Inner Harbor needs to be redeveloped,” said one insider. “Who goes there today? Joggers. The area is isolated from the rest of the harbor.”

Originally, the city considered other attractions for the site that included a rock climbing wall, zip lines and a 200-foot observation wheel.

Spinning Forward

But it was Charm City’s proposal that won out in the end, with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake taking credit for the return of the ride. “It will be a real treat to see our bright and bustling skyline from atop a member of the carousel’s animal menagerie,” she said in a press release.

Featuring a platform 34 feet in diameter and populated with 30 animal figures and two chariots, the new carousel opened last August to lukewarm sales.

Year One operations were slower than expected, Logan acknowledged, and the operator approached the city to modify its rent payments. (Last year’s rent was $38,000 because of the short season, then was set to jump to $50,000 in 2014.)

“This modification keeps this classic, family-friendly attraction in the Inner Harbor, and allows it to continue to operate successfully for years to come,” Logan said. The operator has not yet responded to questions about the ride and new rental terms.

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