BY JAMES FARRELL
The show must not go on.
Community Board 8 sent this message to the city with a June 14 vote to oppose the return of the Big Apple Circus to Cunningham Park.
The circus has raised its tent in Cunningham Park for several weeks over the summer for the past 38 years. This past year, the circus filed for bankruptcy and shut down operations. But in February, the circus announced that it had been purchased by Compass Partners LLC, and would be returning for its 40th anniversary season in 2017 to 2018. But CB 8 wants it to take the show elsewhere.
Members voted overwhelmingly to support the Friends of Cunningham Park, an organization dedicated to the maintenance of the park that opposed the circus’ return in a June 13 letter to New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and northeast Queens’ elected officials.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Queens Tribune, Friends of Cunningham Park President Marc Haken said that the group “vociferously opposes the return of the Big Apple Circus to the park.”
Among the chief concerns mentioned in the letter is a recently established farmers market that has run every Sunday morning in the Cunningham Park parking lot since late May—the same lot that the circus uses when it comes to town. The Friends of Cunningham Park and other local civic associations have worked for 10 years to establish the farmer’s market, Haken said in the letter.
“This year, we were successful and we have a farmers market every Sunday morning in the parking lot where the circus would set up for six weeks that brings hundreds of patrons to the park,” he wrote. “If the circus is permitted to use this parking lot, we will lose our farmers market.”
Haken, who is also a CB 8 member, told the Queens Tribune that the Big Apple Circus is a “lovely organization,” but that under current arrangements all revenues go to the city’s general fund, and that it does not directly benefit the park or the surrounding communities. He hopes that the circus will find another location.
“It doesn’t benefit or enhance the park in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Additionally, board members said that there have been longstanding issues with parking during the summers when the circus is there.
“[The circus] kind of makes most of May and June out of commission for anybody else who wants to use the park,” said Martha Taylor, the chairwoman of CB 8. “Not only do they take up that whole parking lot that’s off 196th Place, but then people who come park in all the other available spots throughout the park and on all the side streets and in people’s driveways and wherever they feel like parking.”
Bob Harris, co-president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, said that he doesn’t necessarily oppose the circus, since it has been willing to work with his association in the past to address concerns. This resulted in compromises such as moving a noisy generator to a more-secluded location, creating more parking and putting out extra trash cans to address excess garbage.
“I can’t speak for all the homeowners who might have had cars parked across their driveways or people have dropped trash or diapers on the street in front of their house,” he said.
The Big Apple Circus did not return a request for comment by press time.
“The Big Apple Circus has not applied for an event in Cunningham Park this summer,” said NYC Parks Department spokeswoman Meghan Lalor. “We are aware of the concerns outlined in the letter from the Friends of Cunningham Park, and as always we will consider community input when reviewing any future applications.”
At the community board meeting, Taylor explained that the farmers market has, thus far, “taken off very well; it’s been very well attended by the community.” When she explained that the Friends of Cunningham Park opposed the circus, many board members clapped.
The board members took a vote by hand on a motion to oppose the circus. Only two voted against the motion.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 356-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.
Update: This story has been updated to include a comment from the New York City Parks Department.