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Venice votes to tear down remaining circus arena structure

Venice Circus Arena
Posted at 3:43 PM, Sep 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-23 15:43:00-04

VENICE, Fla. -- The majority of Venice city leaders put the final nail in the circus arena coffin Tuesday afternoon. The city will now tear down what's left of the old winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

However, there is still hope for a smaller building on the site.

Sometime in the next month the steel structure will come down. A piece of what's left of Venice's history will be no more.

"People who never heard of Venice and never would have heard of Venice came here." Before it looked like it does now, from 1960 to 1993 the circus arena was the crown jewel of the city. Local writer Kim Cool says it help make the city what it is today. "The thing that really put this city on the map and really set it apart from Englewood, Nokomis, Osprey, and other smaller coastal towns, is the arrival of the circus."

In August 2013, the city performed a partial demolition of the site, stripping the structure down to it metal frame. After years of discussion, what's visually left of that history received the final blow Tuesday. The steel bones will come down and the concrete removed.

Larry Ivy with the Circus Arts Foundation says it's a sad day. "Very disappointed; we have tried for so long. It was only recently we have gotten a groundswell of support."

"Very tough decision; I know there is a lot of emotion." Mayor John Holic says something needs to be done with the site to make it look better than it is now. The problem, he says, is there is no money. "If we were to put money into it, we would have to go to the voters and tell them we are raising taxes. Right now we don't have any excess money. In fact we are spending reserves to provide essential services."

In a close vote, city leaders did decide to save what's left of where Gunther Gebel-Williams trained…at least for now. "Staff will determine the number of days that it may stay that way without repair. If the building isn't repaired, it will be taken down as well."

Perhaps some chance to save some of the history, says Ivey. "A small victory there. At least there is some circus heritage that is still going to be there at that site."

Still, the loss of the arena, which organizers had big plans to rebuild, is hard to swallow. "To lose this incredible piece of heritage, and in my opinion the most important piece of heritage to the city, makes me sad."

The city's current contract calls for demolition by the end of October.