Ringling Bros. circus to return to arena as dispute is settled

January 04, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Not so long ago, elephants would rumble up Eutaw Street once a year on their way from Camden Station to the Baltimore Arena and the annual Baltimore performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

But in 1988 the elephants and the rest of the Ringling circus stopped coming to Baltimore because of a feud between the owners of the Ringling and Abe Pollin, who heads the group hired by the city to manage the arena.

Now, though, it seems likely the Ringling elephants will once again parade through Baltimore. Last week, the protagonists in the feud that drove away the circus signed a five-year contract to bring the self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Earth back to Baltimore beginning in March of 1993.

"Now that we are back together, I think everyone sees eye to eye," said Allen J. Bloom, who is executive vice president of Irvin and Kenneth Feld Productions, owner of the circus. "I've developed a very friendly relationship with Abe, and I think the feeling is mutual."

The circus could appear in Baltimore as early as next year if dates can be worked out, said Mr. Bloom. The breakthrough also will mean that Walt Disney's World on Ice, the ice-show adjunct to the circus, will begin playing in Baltimore again beginning in February 1993.

The Ringling circus means a lot to the city's economy.

It drew 152,000 people and generated $113,000 in admission taxes during its last appearance in Baltimore, a one-week run in 1988 that generated some $600,000 in profits for the arena. The circus also means increased sales for street vendors and for nearby restaurants and shops.

The Ringling, which marked its arrival in Baltimore with a traditional circus parade of elephants and other exotic animals from the railroad station to the arena, stopped coming to Baltimore when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke decided to turn management of the city-owned arena at Baltimore and Howard streets over to private management as a cost-cutting measure.

"The reason for their leaving was personal; it wasn't business," Mr. Schmoke said.

But yesterday, Mr. Bloom said Mr. Pollin and his Centre Group had agreed to key demands leveled by circus officials, including a provision barring arena management from charging circus and ice-show customers service fees for tickets they purchase at the arena's box office.

Mr. Bloom also said Mr. Pollin had agreed to accept formulas put forth by the Feld organization for computing circus and ice show overhead costs and profits at the arena.

"Our deals are pretty standard around the country, and we weren't willing to bend," Mr. Bloom said. "We didn't think [the Centre Group] was entitled to any more than anyone else was getting."

Mr. Pollin, who also owns the Washington Bullets and the Washington Capitals and whose organization manages the Capital Centre in Landover, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

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