PEABODY — The Big Apple Circus with its one-ring circus, aerial ballet, clowns without makeup, and a mini pig will be coming to the Northshore Mall, despite concerns about traffic and quality of life issues from a few residents.
After a more than hour and a half hearing, the City Council Thursday night unanimously voted in favor of special permit to allow the circus to set up its big top tent in the parking lot on the northwest side of the Northshore Mall on the corner of Prospect Street and Essex Lane. The lot sits adjacent to East Boston Savings Bank.
The special permit will allow the circus to set up its performance and production space, and run shows between March 29 to May 12. The special permit allows the circus to sell typical circus food and beverages including “beer and wine,” but not, as originally proposed, any mixed drinks. It will require a series of one-day liquor licenses that will have to be obtained by the city’s licensing board to be able to serve beer and wine.
“It is in fact world-class family entertainment,” said Peabody attorney David L. Ankeles.
“We are fortunate to have an operation like this come to Peabody,” said Ward 4 Councilor Edward Charest, whose ward encompasses the mall. Charest was impressed by the “fine-tuned” presentation from circus officials and he announced he planned to vote for it.
Boston, Ankeles noted, has hosted the circus many times. The circus was presently in Washington, D.C., Ankeles said, and it was headed to Peabody, next. The show, which would feature 25 performers, would be performed for an audience of up to 1,500 people, with shows that run five days a week, except Mondays and Tuesdays.
Ankeles said there were no games of chance, no mechanical rides and no pyrotechnics.
“It is not a carnival, this is world-class entertainment,” Ankeles said.
Ankeles said he and the mall’s manager, Mark Whiting, had met with the CEO and Chairman of East Boston Savings Bank, Richard Gavegnano, who Ankeles said understood the circus might cause some inconvenience for employees, but he was all for the circus and wanted to support it.
As for concern about noise from some at the hearing, two generators would be set up away from the neighbors and the shopping center, and an official for the circus said the generators were relatively quiet. Trash and recycling would be constantly picked up and monitored. In-house security would be stationed throughout the grounds and inside the tent.
Ankeles said Big Apple Circus will pay for whatever security or details might be required by Peabody Police. The attorney said he has met with Capt. Scott Richards on the security and traffic plans.
As for parking, the circus will have access to 703 spaces, but Ankeles said there will be more than one person per car, so the circus will not need that many spaces.
“They have agreed to the following conditions that councilor Charest has asked us to state,” Ankeles said. The circus and the mall will incur all public safety costs.
“There will be not costs to the city,” Ankeles said.
“I hope that what we are going to discuss with you will allay your fears,” Capt. Richards said. They expect 500 cars per show, with about three people per car. He said cars will enter and exit the mall from four different points of ingress/egress. People will be coming from Route 114, Route 128, Cross Street and Lowell Street.
Richards said these four different points of entry will diffuse the traffic on roads around the mall.
Police security will include an on-site supervisor, two officers in the big top, an officer on Prospect Street at the entrance to the mall and one stationed at an intersection on the mall property, among others. These costs would be picked up by the circus.
Richards said as a rule, GPS does not send cars through Brooksby Farm neighborhood. He said the circus as an event does not meet the department’s criteria for closing neighborhood roads to residents only.
Such a plan would require checkpoints on several roads which Richards said would be overly restrictive to the neighborhood.
Felton Street residents Tammy and Steven Lamonde spoke out against the circus.
Tammy Lamonde was concerned about traffic.
“It is a nightmare for us to go anywhere,” she said.
“Our street is a public way and we live there on a day-to-day basis,” she said. Felton Street is a well-known cut through to the mall.
Steven Lamonde had concerns about public safety and the possibility of drugs being brought into the neighborhood by those who work for the circus, a characterization which appeared to have angered the attorney.
“We are a 100-percent touring family show,” said Angelina Quevedo, vice president of touring operations who oversees the circus.
The circus was not a carnival, and it involved performers traveling with their families and children as a self-contained community, whose children are educated online. Tammy Lamonde said she appreciated Quevedo allaying her concerns.
“I am a strong proponent of Big Apple Circus coming to the city of Peabody,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said. The mayor was intrigued when he first heard about the circus and appreciated how it was willing to work with the city. He also understood the problem of mall traffic that cuts through the neighborhood of Brooksby Farm.
Bettencourt was impressed by the circus running shows for children with disabilities.
To be sure about the circus, Bettencourt reached out to the mayor of Somerville, Joseph Curtatone, about its having hosted the circus in 2018.
In a letter Bettencourt presented to the City Council, the Somerville mayor had nothing but praise for the way the circus worked to prevent any disruption to that city. Last year’s site of the circus at a vacant lot in Assembly Row was not available in 2019.
“The Big Apple Circus was a great community partner, and we wish we had the space available to host them again,” Curtatone said.
“I think it would be unfortunate if the city did not give it a try,” said Sister Kathy Bettencourt of the Carmelite Sisters’ Holy Childhood Preschool which sits at the corner of Prospect and Wheatland streets. “We are very excited about this, especially for our families,” said Kathy Bettencourt, joking that this may be one of the few times she would be able to run away and join the circus.
Clarification on Big Apple Circus animals
The circus will feature seven horse, 11 ponies, 12 dogs and a mini pig, domestic animals that0 have been rescued.
In an interview, Mayor Bettencourt clarified an incorrect statement he made in a Facebook post, saying in fact the circus is not “PETA-certified.” The mayor said the humane treatment of animals was important to him, and when he asked an attorney representing the circus, the attorney told him the circus was so certified, which it is not.
“PETA is opposed to the use of any animals for entertainment and urges the Big Apple Circus to use only willing human performers,” said PETA Foundation Vice President Delcianna Winders, in a statement. “The only way for Mayor Bettencourt to make the show PETA-certified is by enacting a ban on animal exhibits.”
In a statement, Big Apple Circus said of its animals: “For over 15 years, Big Apple Circus has only featured rescued, domestic animals. Additionally, we maintain a vital no wild or exotic animals policy. Our beloved rescue dogs and horses are cared for by our third-generation animal presenter Jenny Vidbel…It is her life’s purpose to ensure they have an amazing quality of life. The safety of all animals and humans working and performing with the Big Apple Circus is paramount, and Big Apple Circus complies with all federal, state, and local regulations, in addition to our own stringent animal care standards.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.