Last ditch effort to save Venice Circus Arena

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VENICE - Those working to save the old Venice circus arena are getting a shock.

The city of Venice's own building director says the more than 50 year old structure is unsafe and changes need to happen within 60 days.

It could mean the end for what was once the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

It was certainly a shock to those with the Venice Circus Arts Foundation, who have been working for the past few years to raise money to rehab the site.

The main issue is the roof. Inspectors say it is getting worse, and without repair it is a liability to the city.

It opened in 1963. It may not make it to 2014. On Tuesday, the city's building director said the historic circus arena is unsafe and a dangerous building. "We were surprised, because we were not even invited."

Tito Gaona performed here for 20 years. More recently, he's been helping the Venice Circus Arts Foundation get its act together to save it. "Supporters helping, volunteers, everyone working very, very hard. The land seems so nice. We cleaned the palm trees. We did a lot of work."

With two years left on a 5-year commitment, city leaders now giving the foundation 60-days to make it safe or it could be demolished.

"If that would have been private enterprise they would have been sited long ago. They would have had to of taken action long ago," says Venice Mayor John Holic.

Holic says it's not easy. "I am a financial supporter of the Circus Arts Foundation. I feel for them. I feel for all of us that contributed."

Some people, like volunteer Orlando Bevington, are not ready to close the curtain. The foundation has about $40,000 on hand. It's believed $150,000 could patch up the deteriorating areas. "We are going to have our roofers come back in and look and see if this roof can be saved."

Bevington says the recent action could get the city to help. "The city now has to be a working partner with us, instead of just saying you guys do it."

Holic says there may be people in the community looking to help but it is now or never. "Don't wait and see what happens. This is it. You have waited as long as you are going to wait. Step up now or there will not be anything to step up to."

The estimated costs to tear down the building could be upwards of $500,000 or more. "Let’s just fix the roof together. Why spend $500,000 when you can spend $150,000 to fix the roof, and let’s move on," says Gaona.

The group says engineers have already been inside the building and say the steel, the bones of the building, is in perfect shape. They also just got done with a nearly $20,000 feasibility study, which they say indicates all the financial reasons the city would have to save and fix up the 5,000 seat arena for shows and conventions.

The building has not been used in more than 20 years, but in that time recent rains, lack of repairs and repairs the foundation says they were making when the city told them to stop have made the building unsafe.