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City nixes circus at event center

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A three-ring circus planned to be held next month in the Rocky Mount Event Center has been called off.

As of late last week, there were two opposing stories about what happened and why Royal Hanneford Circus will not be at the massive downtown complex.

One is from Rocky Mount’s municipal government; the other is from Royal Hanneford leadership and claims City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney is to blame.

Word of the cancelation began spreading like wildfire locally on social media after the event center, in a posting on Facebook on Thursday afternoon, said the circus was not coming, citing “unforeseen circumstances beyond our control” as the reason.

The posting apologized for the inconvenience and said refunds would be distributed.

City chief spokeswoman Tameka Kenan-Norman, in a prepared statement on Friday to the Telegram, said the show was canceled based on a recommendation from event center Manager Art Thomason.

There were concerns and unanswered questions, including the management of the animals when they were not performing, where the animals would be staged and about a protective covering for the floor, Kenan-Norman said.

Additionally, there were concerns about odor lingering in the event center while other scheduled activities would be taking place, she said.

There also were concerns about a low number of ticket sales, with only eight tickets having been sold online as of Oct. 11.

Adrian Poema, 43, a part owner of the show, on Friday told the Telegram he and his team had a contract with the event center.

Poema said about a week ago, Thomason asked if he could provide a list of the animals he and his team use in the circus.

Poema said the plan was to include camels, dogs, goats, elephants and ponies in the event center.

He said about two days later, Thomason emailed saying “the lady in charge of the city” did not want any animals in the event center.

He said he emailed back seeking clarity about whether this was an issue about having animals inside the building. He said if the answer was yes, then the animals could be housed outside in heated tents and just taken into the event center during the shows.

Poema said the emailed response was along the lines of, “No, they didn’t want any animals, period, in the building.”

He said Thomason asked whether he could bring a circus “big top” to be set up in the parking lot or somewhere in the city.

Poema said he emailed back saying there was good possibility he and his team could bring one of the big tops and that Thomason emailed him saying he would speak with Small-Toney and respond.

Poema said he subsequently received an email from Thomason saying he was sorry, but the matter was out of his hands and the show would have to be canceled.

Poema comes from a family long in the circus business — and that in all his years in the business, he has never had a local government call off one of his and his team’s shows.

As for his reaction to what has happened in Rocky Mount, he said, “I’m very disappointed.”

The event center opened in October 2018 and is on the Edgecombe County side of the rail line bisecting Nash County and Edgecombe County and Rocky Mount’s once-bustling central business district.

Poema said he and his team were going to work together with the event center officials and do more than just pay rent, collect profits and leave Rocky Mount.

“We were going to donate money back to the community,” Poema said.

Poema also noted he and his team were preparing free tickets for youths to make coming in as easy as possible for families.

Later Friday, the circus posted on Facebook in more detail, expressing regret the show had been canceled.

“We have made every appeal humanly possible and have been turned away at every corner,” the posting said. “The citizens of Rocky Mount are being blocked from experiencing one of America’s most time-honored tradition(s): attending a real three-ring circus with animals, acrobats, jugglers, aerialists and even elephants.”

Additionally, the posting said circus officials had been discussing cooperative advertising with the event center, that artwork had been paid for and performers had been contracted and scheduled to appear.

The posting expressed appreciation to those who supported the circus and stated: “ONE PERSON — your city manager — stepped in and cancelled the shows.”

The plan was for the circus to be in Rocky Mount on Nov. 16-17, but the plan still is for the circus to be at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh on Nov. 22.

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