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Ringling Bros. folds up its tent at Coney Island

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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.

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Reader Feedback

Liz from CI says:
Why is the print on your site SOOOO small? It is VERY difficut to read.
March 1, 2011, 9:49 am
sal from coney island says:
I wonder how many tickets were actually bought by the public & how many tickets were given away by the elected officials?
I bet you the City, & Ringling Bros. won't release those numbers.
The $ 10 admission price was the low end tickets price, I remember the ticket prices were much higher especially on the weekends.
Perhaps BP Marty Markowitz can get another circus there & in fact he has the personality to be right one to be its Ringmaster & Master of Ceremonies.
March 1, 2011, 10:37 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
solidarity with Shoot The Freak! Alright!
March 1, 2011, 2:15 pm
K from North Brooklyn says:
Good riddance. No one wants to see exotic animals exploited for entertainment and then crammed into inadequate cages in unnatural environments. Glad to see them go.

Shoot The Freak, on the otherhand, must return!
March 1, 2011, 5:20 pm
sid from Boerum hill says:
Liz its not the type on the website its the type on your computer. To increase the size press and hold the control key and press the plus sign on your computer(or if you mouse has a scroll key press the ctrl key and scroll your mouse to make the type face larger permanently on a PC computer. If you have an apple computer you instead press and hold the apple key and do the same thing....
March 1, 2011, 6:31 pm
Bunker from Manhattan says:
K, I agree! Let them go abuse animals somewhere else. Hopefully the abuse business is bad and they will go out of business forever. www.ringlingbeatsanimals.com
March 2, 2011, 5:48 pm
Samantha from Coney Island says:
Good riddance. I run/walk on the boardwalk often during the summer and the smell of elephant dung is extremely unpleasant.
April 13, 2011, 1:42 pm
Aaron from BK says:
Nothing is better than the smell of elephant dung in the morning.

And as a former RBBB clown I can say that they most certainly do NOT abuse their animals in any way whatsoever. If you are concerned with contained mammals, then perhaps you should protest the aquarium as well, or really, anyone with an apartment smaller than 1500 sf who has a dog...
Sept. 27, 2012, 8:39 pm
Aaron from BK says:
And really? If you think $10 for a full show is an expensive ticket, then I really don't know what city you are living in. I want Coney Island to be a vibrant place in touch with its past, but stop fetishizing poverty and extremist nostalgia. It's ridiculous.

Ok. Somebody else can have the soap box now. Thanks!
Sept. 27, 2012, 8:42 pm

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