Venice land could be new gateway to city

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VENICE, Fla. - City leaders voted this week to change zoning on land near the southern entrance to the island of Venice. It includes where the shell of the former Circus Arena now stands, which could open the door for it to be torn down completely or for it to be rebuilt.

City leaders say they have no plans for what could go there, or even if what's there could still have a future. What they do know is this area is ready for something more than it is now.

Mayor John Holic say it's important to come up with a plan to develop the southern gateway to the island of Venice. "It's the first thing you see when you come over the southern bridge."

Current zoning dictates that the land fronting U.S. 41 could only be for public use, like a park. Tuesday, the majority of city leaders voted to change that. "It will allow just about anything from residential units to light industrial to hotels," says Holic.

Included in the 65 acres are the current festival grounds near the Intracoastal Waterway and the raw bones of what was once the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

It might not mean the end to them, though. "It also allows for the circus to be rebuilt," says Holic.

"I see almost like a work in progress instead of being torn down." Larry Ivey and the Venice Circus Arts Foundation have been working for years to save something of the history there. He says there is still hope for an open air arena, maybe with a canvas canopy on top for shows and events. “We are not giving up at all. We are still trying. We say make it a pavilion; make it useful. The airport can rent it and get income."

The plan does though open up the door to competition, which might not have the arena in its plans. "If they can't step up before someone else comes up with an idea, then that's the way it goes I guess," says Holic.

Ivey says the group is working with Lowe's to paint the beams, along with architects and designers, to be able to come up with their plan. "We just need to convince the city and the airport that this is worth saving and show them they can still get value and it will be an asset to the city."

With zoning hurdles out of the way, city leaders appear at this point to be up for listening to anything. "We don't have the model yet of exactly it should be."

It's expected there will be a series of public workshops to see what the community wants.

The Venice airport controls much of the land and would receive the revenue.