MANSFIELD -- John Fernyak still has copies of the bumper stickers that read, "Will the last person leaving Mansfield please turn off the carrousel?"

The downtown businessman can also smile, look out his West Fourth Street office window every day and see proof across the street that the vision he and others put forth three decades ago did indeed come to fruition.

It was a shared vision of 52 wooden figurines -- though questioned and mocked by many as a horribly bad idea -- that literally helped to save and resurrect downtown Mansfield.

As Richland Carrousel Park marks the 30th anniversary of its opening Monday, it would be tempting for the 87-year-old Fernyak, still active as the owner of Engwiller Properties, to take a victory lap.

Instead, he refuses to take the lion's share of credit for a unique, public-private partnership idea that helped to transform a community in 1991.

"I'm very happy with the result, but there were a lot of people involved in this," Fernyak said during an interview in his office last week. "This wasn't a one- or two-person operation. A lot of people gave money to it. A lot of people donated to it. There were probably over 100 people that made this happen."


Those entering today's Carrousel District, with its stores, restaurants, coffee shop and trendy bars and eateries, would not recognize the North Main Street area in the 1970s and 1980s, especially between Temple Court and West Fourth Street.

Aging and decaying buildings were boarded up, some for so long the utilities had been disconnected. Many, if not most, storefronts were vacant.

Rough bars, massage parlors and crime were thriving businesses in the area, including down east and west on Fourth Street. Fernyak said even a pawn shop owner in the area closed his doors after being robbed at gunpoint.

It was not Mansfield's Fun Center for most local residents, who stayed away in droves.

"I think all the people involved in (the carrousel development) felt that the downtown was in pretty bad shape," Fernyak said. "No one wanted to come downtown. A lot of the buildings were boarded up.

"The antique store down here ... you could walk into the basement and look up and see the birds flying overhead because the roof was gone. The floors were gone. It was just a shell of bricks," Fernyak said.

"It was pretty dead down here."

Main Street blight