Coney Island won’t be “the greatest show on Earth” this summer.
After just two seasons on the Boardwalk, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will not set up its big top this summer in the struggling-to-rebuild amusement district, claiming scheduling conflicts and financial issues.
P.T. Barnum once allegedly said there’s a sucker born every minute. Some locals certainly feel that way right now.
“That’s a real shame — the amusement zone needs a circus,” said Coney Island History Project founder Charles Denson.
The acrobats, lion-tamers and clowns of the circus attracted more a quarter of a million people to the W. 21st Street site over the two summers — quickly establishing the show as a central element of the city’s vision for a bustling amusement area extending from the Cyclone to beyond MCU Park, the home of the Cyclones minor league baseball team.
But a Ringling Bros. spokesman said that the circus’s June-September Coney show no longer “fit into the schedule.”
“We already committed to shows in the Pacific Northwest,” said the spokesman, Stephen Payne.
Insiders surmised that the circus hadn’t made as much money as it hoped to.
“They opted out of the agreement because they were having trouble making the numbers work,” said Michele de Milly, a spokeswoman for Taconic Partners, which leased the site to Ringling Bros.
Payne declined to address the money question, saying only that the circus hopes to return next summer.
The decision to ditch Coney Island is a major blow to the city, which had touted the circus as a key step in transforming the once-neglected area into a year-round tourist destination.
Ringling Bros. preceded other amusement area operations, including Luna Park, which opened last summer, and Scream Zone, which will add two new roller coasters and other rides this spring. Both were operated by Central Amusement, the Italian-based outfit whose 10-year lease from the city is also part of the Bloomberg administration’s long-term revitalization plan.
But without the Greatest Show on Earth, Central Amusement is now the only show in town.
The city insists that the circus’s departure is a mere bump in the road.
“While the circus would have been great, it’s no longer necessary to make Coney Island a draw,” said Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman Julie Wood. “There’s a full calendar of exciting events in Coney Island this summer, headlined by Scream Zone and Luna Park.”
Opponents of the mayor’s vision for an upscale Coney Island were quick to predict that Central Amusements would also soon bow out, another big-time operator who couldn’t make the predicted killing in a small-time, past-its-prime neighborhood.
“Coney Island will forever be a poor man’s Boardwalk,” said Shoot the Freak owner Anthony Berlingieri, whose popular arcade game was bulldozed earlier this year, though it is slated to return for one more season. “I’m not surprised Ringling Bros. left because most people don’t want to pay $10 for a circus ticket or $25 for Luna Park.”
Berlingieri charges $5 for a round of paintball at Shoot the Freak.
Taconic Partners and the city have not decided on a summer tenant for the space left vacant by the circus, but plan to bring in some form of entertainment by June, according to Wood.
Central Amusement officials did not return a request for comment.