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September 2014

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Entertainment Boom Print E-mail

By Susan Wilcox

The circus has come to Manatee County. So have monster trucks, ice skaters and the Marvel Universe. These new residents moved in when Feld Entertainment consolidated its headquarters and production facilities in the old Siemens building located on U.S. Highway 301 in Ellenton.

The live entertainment company includes brands such as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, and Marvel Universe Live. Feld has almost completed its move from several locations around the country, taking two years rather than the five that had originally been planned. It now has more than 300 employees in the area, with half moving from out of state and the other half coming from the area. Casey Rodgers, worldwide Vice-President of Finance and Strategic Planning for Feld Entertainment, said the average wage is double that of the Manatee County average of approximately $35,000 annually.

The undertaking started to take shape during the Great Recession of 2010 and 2011 when Feld began looking at the idea of building a new facility in Florida. It already had some production facilities in the area and began discussions about keeping those jobs and adding hundreds of new ones with Sharon Hillstrom, President and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, and Karen Stewart and Cheri Coryea of Manatee County’s economic development offices.

The EDC and Manatee County were able to assemble the largest economic incentive package in its history, offering $3.8 million dollars in tax credits, grants and other incentives to entice Feld to relocate here. Rodgers explained that the county offered the package because more than 95 percent of the revenue Feld brings into the area comes from out of Florida. “It is all brand-new, fresh money. We are not just redistributing money,” Rodgers said. “Over the next 20 years, we anticipate that we will bring a $3 billion economic increase to Manatee County.”

The economic impact is not the only thing that is enormous. The facility itself is a 600,000-square-foot building on 43 acres. It includes production facilities and rehearsal spaces as well as administrative office space. The building contains 30 monster trucks and has room for 50 more, which will be built in the on-site shop. The circus animals are housed in their own compound when they are not traveling with the shows. Sending those circus shows on the road is a massive undertaking. As it has done throughout its long history, the circus travels by trains that are more than a mile long, with 60 units in each train. The rail journey starts from the tracks at Port Manatee.

Feld is already settling into its new home. Its newest show, Marvel Universe Live, had its world premiere at the St. Pete Times Forum earlier this year. In addition, “we have joined the Chamber of Commerce and the EDC. We have also supported some of the programming at USF Sarasota-Manatee and have hired some of its graduates. We will be doing more as we finish consolidating,” said Rodgers. “We have big plans. We will definitely grow and will need another building the size of the one we have now.” 

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