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BY YANNIC RACK | Three friends from Long Island, Christina, Millie and Jessica, made the long trip to Downtown Manhattan to celebrate Millie’s birthday last week.
They hadn’t made a restaurant reservation, however, and at around noon they were a little early for drinks, too.
Instead, they joined a steadily growing queue of visitors from near and far that stretched through The Battery (formerly historic Battery Park) last Thursday, Aug. 20, to catch a ride on the park’s latest attraction.
It was where, at the park’s southeastern entrance on Peter Minuit Plaza, the long-awaited SeaGlass Carousel spun into life for its first round at 1 p.m.
The three women ranging in age from 26 to 33 laughed when asked if they had come with kids.
“I’m obsessed with carousels and the ocean, so you combine them together and it’s pretty cool,” Christina said.
Inside the steel and glass pavilion that now sits in the middle of the park, 30 exotic fish were bobbing up and down, glowing in softly changing colors and carrying children and adults of all ages around in a circle.
The $16-million carousel is a project of The Battery Conservancy, which manages the park together with the city, and had been in the making for over a decade.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Warrie Price, founder and president of the conservancy, said opening day.
She was glancing over the waiting crowd, which she said had already started to form two hours before the opening.
“It’s fabulous, I’m unbelievably happy. We went from this incredible conceptualization and enormous amount of work — because it’s a very sophisticated mechanism —to letting go of it and letting people enjoy it,” she told Downtown Express.
Ground was finally broken on the project in 2010, almost a decade after it had been conceived in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The turntable on which the fish in the carousel are mounted and moved was installed in 2012, but Hurricane Sandy brought havoc to the park just two months later.
This May the fiberglass fish were finally installed on the carousel platform and it is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every month except January and February.
Last Thursday, the line quickly stretched all the way to the park entrance 200 feet away.
Standing a little ways behind the birthday party were Paul and Paulette Begley from Seattle, who were visiting their children in the city for a week and had brought their two-year-old granddaughter Olyvia to try out the carousel.
“Our kids have been following it in the paper for a few weeks,” Paulette Begley said.
“It’s fabulous, it looks like you really feel like a fish.”
Inside the carousel, the seats around the outer part of the platform were mostly left empty.
“They all want to ride on the ones that go up and down,” one of the operators explained.
The fish all whirl around clockwise but only 18 of them move up and down as well, by up to two and a half feet.
Visitors can choose from butterflyfish, an imposing angelfish, a Siamese fighting fish, yellow lionfish, as well as triggerfish, wrasses and a blue discus.
They range in size from seven to 14 feet but every single one can hold an adult and a small child.
After their three-and-a-half-minute ride was over, Sharon Arang, who lives in Battery Park City, said, “We’re very excited. I told my kids it’s a privilege to live down here, and today we wanted to be tourists.”
“It was really fun,” said nine-year-old Sofia, the oldest of her three children.
But Ari, 4, who rode with his mother, thought it was a little scary.
Arang said she didn’t mind the admission price of $5 per person, but added that it was “pretty steep.”
“It’s a treat,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something that we’ll be doing on a daily basis.”
Accompanying her were a neighbor, John Ryan, and his two kids, Jake, 8, and Lily, 5.
“They loved it,” Ryan said of his children. “I want to come back at night. I get the feeling that’s the real show.”
“Definitely,” agreed Arang. “I’d like to come back at night, maybe with my husband, without the kids.”
“What are you talking about?” her middle one asked, visibly alarmed.
The conservancy’s Price thinks the carousel will attract even more people in the future, when the rest of the park is back in full operation. Currently, there are construction sites on two sides of the SeaGlass pavilion.
“As soon as we get all this open,” she said, “what you would hope is that someone could let their kids just run in the woodland, to just play while they’re waiting to get on the ride. And there we’ll have a playground next year. Over time, I think there’ll be a lot more here for families to enjoy.”
She quickly darted off to remind one youngster not to play on the planted green strip near the line. When she returned, a look around brought a smile to her face.
“This is our inspiration, this is our project, and we’ve worked on it for 11 years. And look how amazing it is!”