The Circus Arts Conservatory recognized top donors at a grand opening event April 9.
The “Greatest Little Show on Earth” has a new air-conditioned home.
In addition to AC, the 40-year-old facility next to Sarasota High School now has retractable bleachers, new floors, an enlarged practice area, structural enhancements to improve safety and ensure ADA compliance, updated restrooms and more. It also has the necessary amenities to host national and international events.
Sailor Circus Arena reopened April 9 after five years of planning, a year of renovations and a campaign that has raised $4.35 million to date. Donors and other community supporters gathered for the grand opening, which kicked off with several speeches before the ribbon was cut.
“The arena is a dream come true,” said Pedro Reis, founder and CEO of CAC. “This makes the Circus Arts Conservatory much more than a circus … it’s the latest community center.”
CAC Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Mitchell echoed Reis, adding that the renovated space is now the nation’s “largest pre-eminent circus training facility.”
“The CAC is a stronger organization because we’ve completed this project,” Mitchell added.
She also told the crowd that Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, made it possible for the CAC to receive a $1 million grant from the state of Florida. Without that, Mitchell said the project wouldn’t have been possible.
Mitchell then thanked all the donors, CAC staff, volunteers, students and partners — particularly Tandem Construction of Sarasota, which executed the renovations. She also thanked Nathan Benderson Park for being flexible and helping CAC pitch its Circus Sarasota tent early this season so the students could practice and perform there during arena construction.
The timing of the reopening was reiterated by all the speakers, particularly CAC Founder and Vice President Dolly Jacobs, who said she’s excited to ring in the 70th anniversary Sailor Circus season in the renovated arena. As a past Sailor Circus student herself, the anniversary is particularly meaningful.
“I was born and raised here, and Sailor Circus has been such a part of Sarasota as far back as I can remember,” Jacobs told the Observer during a separate interview. “There’s nothing else to replace the sense of accomplishment (circus offers) … To be able to offer that to kids — because I experienced it myself — is very gratifying.”
Guests at the opening learned the new arena has a total open space of 28,050 square feet, making it Sarasota’s largest indoor event venue. The arena also boasts a capacity of 2,287 with 1,586 fixed seats and 678 flexible.
After the ribbon cutting, eventgoers headed inside to peruse the renovated space and watch juggling and aerial performances by several Sailor Circus students.