MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – There could be big changes on the way for the Oneco community in Manatee County if a local entertainment company gets zoning changes to a 5.6-acre property off State Road 70 approved this week.

Cirque Italia aims to transform the property to eventually include a 20,000-square-foot performance tent, a concession tent, 128 grassy parking spaces, a two-story multi-use building and up to eight multi-family residential units.

The local company’s plans to develop and bring circus performances to the area is causing controversy among residents and other community members. Signs saying “No Circus Oneco” are posted outside homes and churches in the neighborhood.

Longtime resident Margi Nanney feels a circus venue a short distance away from homes isn’t appropriate.

“For the neighbors that are directly impacted down the street, that tent will be just feet from their door. It will present noise issues, lighting issues, and it will be between 50 and 75 feet tall. Manatee County [should] be ashamed for even considering something like this,” said Nanney.

Bill Bailey has been the pastor at Happy Gospel Church in Oneco for decades. His church’s primary concern with the development proposal is the programming that will take place under the big top. Cirque Italia produces family-friendly water circus shows and adult shows dubbed “Paranormal Cirque.”

“Some of their more prominent programming is the paranormal circus that by its own definition is a horror, devilish program that promotes violence, it promotes creepiness, blood, gore and we don’t want that here in our community of Oneco,” said Pastor Bailey.

A Cirque Italia spokesperson sent 8 On Your Side a lengthy statement in regards to the company’s desire to rezone the property on 53rd Avenue East. The spokesperson said it is founder Manuel Rebecchi’s main objective to build credibility and trust whenever embarking on a new project.

“Our goal with this new build is to not only create a performance venue but to also establish headquarters for each circus that comprises Cirque Italia; two family-friendly, water circuses and two mature, paranormal circuses. We understand that the community may have reservations about the paranormal circuses. However, reviews have shown that ‘the show overall is less outright horror than it is creepy weirdness mixed with abundant sex appeal. You will end up laughing more than screaming’ – (Herald Tribune). Therefore, the paranormal shows are not much different than what you expect a ‘Rated R’ film to contain. Additionally, we are proud of the fact that all four shows are completely animal-free. Our focus, rather, is to entertain spectators by showing off human talents and testing the limits of the performer’s own capabilities.

In addition to our venue, Cirque Italia plans to use 25,000 square feet of the land to develop a business plaza which will house offices of small, local businesses, restaurants, apartments and a gym in addition to Cirque Italia corporate headquarters. Thus, completely transforming a prior abandoned piece of land into a functional property for the community. It is our aim that this project will also encourage and attract other investors to come and contribute to the community.

During the build, we promise to uphold the highest standards in construction to ensure that the final result will be safe and an attractive addition to the community. We understand the community’s concerns of increased traffic. Nevertheless, we would like to remind the community that the increased traffic will also be a result of increased tourism to the area which can benefit businesses across Bradenton. Success from the shows also allows Cirque Italia to employ locals, participate in community events and donate to nonprofits. 

It is our hope that these sentiments will resonate with the Bradenton community and allow them to look at the build in a different, more positive light. Ideally, we would love to form lasting relationships with community members to ensure that our development will be an addition to the neighborhood that everyone can be proud of.”

“It is no secret that Oneco has had its challenges over maybe the last two decades. The redevelopment that needs to occur certainly is not part of this circus project,” said Pastor Bailey.

“I totally agree with beneficial redevelopment. Beneficial redevelopment is always needed anywhere. We need more homes and we need more professional offices. We do not need a circus in a tent in Oneco,” said Nanney.

Last month, the county planning commissioner recommended approval of the project in a 4 to 3 vote. The final decision will be up to the county commissioners. A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 2. Residents and community members plan to attend and share their thoughts ahead of a decision.