Circus arena site ideas come in

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 1:01 pm

VENICE, FL. - The city of Venice is asking developers what they could build on the old circus arena property.

They got three proposals, and all three are circus related. They include a trapeze school, a circus themed mini putt course and the group wanting to fix up the arena.

All three are working together. "This is the most encouraged we've been in three years now," says Larry Ivey of the Venice Circus Arts Foundation.

Ivey says they have brought together three entities to develop on the old winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. "We ended up having three independent proposals from three independent companies, all partnering together to use the whole arena property here."

Former performer, Tito Gaona's Flying Trapeze Academy, is one. Another, believe it or not, is for a professional 18-hole circus themed mini golf course. "Miniature golf would be out in front by the Gunther Gebel-Williams Building. We will restore that and have the Circus Walk of Fame there. Each hole would have history of the circus in Venice”, says Ivey.

The third is a for-profit company focusing on rehabbing what's left of the arena and hosting shows, concerts, and other events. "The for-profit company is going to put the roof on it and the electricity and the required restrooms so it can be used again," says Ivey.

The only ideas which came forth after the city advertised for letters of interest. City leaders like Council Member Kit McKeon, says he was looking for more choice. "I was hopeful we would have some other expressions of interest…Maybe an office building, a potential hotel…something to be a catalyst to help develop that area."

The fact remains that the three-party group is the only ones who came with anything. "We will have to talk to the entities and see what the next step is. Should we put it out for a request for proposal? Is this financially viable?" says

McKeon says some aspects of what has been proposed are intriguing, like saving the Gunther Gebel Williams Training Building. "The arena may be a project too big to succeed. I very much would like to maintain some of the circus heritage."

Ivey says they have the plan; a feasibility study showing the businesses will make money and an engineering report, which shows the beams are structurally sound. The only group trying to make something work just wants to get to work. "The interest in developing this area has always been for the history of the circus. We are hoping that is a good sign for us."

The top priority for the city council was bringing a road from U.S. 41 to the airport. The Circus Arts folks say originally they were against that plan. However, now they say with splitting up the uses, it will actually be a big benefit.

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