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THE LONG ROAD TO KIDDIELAND

Margaret Lochhead walks toward the lake in Phoenix's Encanto Park with her bread bag, on her way to feed the ducks. She's been doing it for years on Sunday mornings--ever since her childhood when she set free her pet duck at the park. Along the way to the lake, Lochhead often stoops to pick up the debris of someone else's picnic. The trash spoils her childhood memories of when she lived a few blocks away.

It's just a plain fact that Lochhead loves the park, and in 1986, she translated that love into something more meaningful than occasionally picking up trash.

That was the year the city's bulldozers tore into the north half of the park in a massive renovation. Among the casualties was Kiddieland, the park's quaint collection of amusement rides that was easy on the budget of poor people.

Lochhead, like hundreds of others, wanted to save Kiddieland's carousel from destruction. A committee raised $60,000 and bought the carousel. Lochhead chaired the restoration effort by getting the state's AFL-CIO union members and Salt River Project employees to donate their time to restore the colored horses and refurbish the timeworn equipment.

Five years later, the $8.5 million renovation of 53-year-old Encanto Park is almost done, and the carousel sits in a downtown warehouse waiting for the reopening of Kiddieland. City officials say the amusement park will open in September (two years late) and recently conducted a groundbreaking at the site on Picnic Island.

But there's still a snag with Kiddieland. There is no agreement with a concessionaire to operate the rides. Parks department spokesperson Marie Chapple Camacho says admission fees and ride prices are still being negotiated.

Councilmember Mary Rose Wilcox threatens to block any plan to raise ride prices or charge an admission fee.

City staff members say there is no contingency plan if negotiations with Ray Cammack Shows, the concessionaire that will run the restaurants and rides, fail.

The track record is not good. In 1988, negotiations with another concessionaire fell through. It wasn't until after the 1990 bond election that the city was able to go forward with Kiddieland construction, a $2.5 million upgrade, says Camacho.

Fees and ride prices also were a sticking point in the previous failed negotiations. Neither Mel Liggitt, the concessionaire's marketing person, nor city negotiator Chris Curcio will discuss contract provisions. They do say there have been "no problems" so far in their discussions. A contract should be proposed to Phoenix's Parks Board by the end of February, Curcio says. And the city council will then have to ratify the contract.

"I fought last year for free swims for kids," Wilcox says referring to the Kool Kids program last summer at city pools. "Think how cruel it would be if kids couldn't get into Kiddieland because of a fee. That's crazy." She says ride prices will stay around 50 cents.

Regardless of the prices, there will be many changes in the new Kiddieland. The carousel will be housed indoors--in an attempt to aid maintenance and stop vandalism. A kid-sized train will chug on a figure eight through the six-acre island. Also featured will be a giant sandbox, an echo chamber, a 35-foot-high tower for parachuting, at least five carnival rides, a picnic area and a sit-down restaurant.

Wilcox sees the completion of the park's renovation as "fulfilling a promise" to her constituents. But Margaret Lochhead sees it as restoring her childhood. "I've been to dozens of birthday parties here," Lochhead recalls. "Kiddieland was an important part of our lives for a long time. We grew up there."

The same thing didn't happen to Lochhead's son Jeff. He was seven when Kiddieland closed and will be a teenager by the time it opens. Lochhead is optimistic about the new Kiddieland, but she says, "It's been difficult and frustrating at times. I get calls all the time from friends who want to know when it will open." --

"Think how cruel it would be if kids couldn't get into Kiddieland because of a fee. That's crazy.

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