March 10, 2014 11:21AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
CHARLESTOWN — The Big Apple Circus will not be coming to Ninigret Park this summer.
Joel Dein, director of communications for the non-profit production, said the winter’s stormy weather kept people away and hit the show’s finances hard.
“Financially, the tour has become very difficult, and we just can’t afford to do this,” he said. “We’ve actually cut the tour short this year. We’re not only canceling Charlestown, we’re also canceling Lake George.”
The circus has become a summer tradition for many southern New England families. While it has skipped engagements in the past, most recently in 2010 and 2011, Charlestown Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Paliotta said she was sorry to learn it would not be coming for this summer’s planned July 5-13 engagement.
“It’s a sad loss for Rhode Island and South County,” she said. “But I can understand, being a non-profit and to lose that much money, it’s crazy.”
Dein said winter storms dealt the circus two severe blows — first in New York City in January, and again in February in Atlanta.
“We got hit really hard at Lincoln Center, which is our premiere engagement. We’re there two and a half months. Because of the weather conditions that hit there and the school closings and everything else, we came up short at Lincoln Center. And again in Atlanta, we got hit really hard several times during our run there, which comes right after Lincoln Center,” he said.
Paliotta said that in addition to the $9,000 fee the circus pays to use the park, the event was an important source of revenue for local businesses.
“Last year they were here for 24 shows. I know the restaurants are full after the shows, the hotels are all booked. The Big Apple Circus employees stay in the hotels,” she said.
Local charities also benefited from the circus. People entering the parking area paid a $2 donation which went to preselected nonprofit organizations. This year, the groups would have been Colors for a Cause, which helps families with children suffering with cancer, and the Church of the Holy Spirit.
“They usually make $4,000 each off that,” Paliotta said.
Dein said the circus performers enjoyed coming to Ninigret.
“It’s one of our favorite engagements. It’s like playing old-time circus because of where we are. People come and see the tent being set up. The audiences are just great. So it’s just an all-around very unfortunate situation.”
Paliotta said she hoped the circus would return in 2015.
“We’re going to keep in touch in the next couple of months and hopefully they’ll be back next year” she said.
In addition to losing the circus, the Charlestown business community has suffered another disappointment. Rhode Island concert promoter Frank J. Russo obtained initial approval from the Town Council in October 2013 to explore the possibility of having one or more large concerts in the park. But Russo, who represents performers like Andrea Bocelli, said he had been too late to book any entertainers of the caliber he wanted.
“I am endeavoring to pursue 2015 now,” he said. “I started this process back in October, which was a little late for some of the artists. There are only a select number of acts that I was interested in, that I thought would be appropriate for the community,” he said. They just weren’t available. I’m very selective about who I get to perform there. It has to be the right mix, so everyone has a good time.”
Charlestown Parks and Recreation Director Jay Primiano said he was hopeful that Russo would find a performer for the following summer.
“I hope he comes back to us with a proposal in September,” he said. “Then we’ll bring it before the Town Council for consideration.”
Charlestown has been considering its $9,000 park fee, but has decided not to raise it this year. Economic Improvement Commission Chairman Frank Glista said it was time for the town to draft a master plan for Ninigret Park.
“Both residents and tourists should be disappointed by the potential lack of events at Ninigret Park this year,” he said. “On one hand, we have members of our community trying to raise park fees while at the same time events are leaving, even if it is for a short term. In the past, we have seen the Swamp Yankee Days Festival and the Reggae Festival leave our park due to cost factors. The town needs to address the Ninigret Park master plan with regards to the festival area that has been proposed. This is the only way that we can be fair while assessing a new fee structure for our park.”
Paliotta said she would now focus her efforts on the Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Seafood Festival, which takes place Aug. 1-3. The festival will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer.