City says no thanks to traveling circus

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April 25, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
April 15 meeting

The city used its relatively new and strict circus policy to tell a Florida company to keep its elephant, monkeys, kangaroos and ponies out of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Piccadilly Circus had been working on a deal for a May 14–15 show, but Minneapolis Animal Care and Control on April 4 denied the company’s application for a permit.

The City Council denied an appeal by the circus on April 15.

Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, in its denial letter, said the circus did not meet the city’s 90-day deadline for applying for a permit, has not paid the city’s permit fee and has not supplied the city with animal care records.  

The fees, application deadline and animal records are new requirements for circuses in Minneapolis. The City Council in 2008 nearly banned circuses, but after a 7–6 defeat, the City Council voted 11–2 for stricter restrictions.

Animal Care and Control manager Dan Niziolek said Piccadilly applied for the permit about 45 days before the event, not the full 90 days required. Piccadilly sent him animal records after the first denial, but Niziolek said it would take much more time to review and follow up on the records.

He said the city’s circus ordinance requires that city staff travel to another one of the applicant’s shows to see how it operates.

“The ordinance is meant to ensure that any event with a wild animal protects the public, the public health and the animals,” Niziolek said.

John Whitfield of Piccadilly Circus said in a telephone interview from Florida that Minneapolis is the only city he’s encountered that requires that the circus turn over animal care records. Piccadilly has upcoming dates on its website for several cities, including Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich.

He also said in a letter to the city that he sent a check for the permit fee on April 1.The fee is $750. Whitfield said Piccadilly would have applied earlier, but it was still working on a contract with the Convention Center.

A Convention Center spokesperson declined to say how much the circus would have paid to the Convention Center to hold the event.

Whitfield said attendance at the events ranges, with some attracting several thousand.

The city, since passing the circus policy in 2008, has given permits every year to the Shrine Circus to bring wild animals to the Target Center. Niziolek said the city had only one small problem with the Shrine Circus and did not allow the organizers to bring monkeys one year as a result.

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Urban agriculture growing closer

The city moved a little closer to opening up Minneapolis to commercial farming and gardening on April 15.

The City Council approved basic framework — called the Urban Agriculture Policy Plan — that is meant to guide the city in drafting zoning ordinances that will allow people to grow and sell food in Minneapolis.

Most notably, the plan would allow for small commercial gardens in residential areas of the city and for larger farms in vacant industrial and commercial areas. Unlike existing community gardens that do not allow goods to be sold, the new plan allows for gardeners and farmers to sell their goods.

About 20 urban agriculture advocates attended a Zoning and Planning Committee meeting to support the measure, but also to keep a close eye on some amendments that the committee made to the plan.

One amendment would establish standards making it illegal to sell goods on-site, post more than one small sign and have several vehicles parked on site.

Another amendment stripped from the plan a directive for city staff to study the possibility of someday letting residents keep hoofed animals in Minneapolis.

“I fundamentally disagree with the idea of keeping hoofed animals in an urban area,” said Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward), who authored the amendment.

Diana Turner said she didn’t like some of the amendments, but she applauded the overall plan as a big step for opening up the city to urban agriculture.

The St. Paul woman held a sign during the committee meeting that read “I Will Grow Food if You Let Me.”

Turner runs a nonprofit organization called BUGS (Beneficial Urban Gardeners and Sanctuary). The organization works with inner city youth who, because of their backgrounds, aren’t able to get jobs. The youth would be hired to support urban agriculture, like transport food and help control insects with the hope that they could someday start their own businesses.

She says urban agriculture will be a boost to the local economy and reduce the energy required to transport food from outside the metro area.

“Things have changed,” she said. “Our economic times are drastically compelling us to think out of the box.”

The City Council must vote on each zoning change separately. Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said he hopes the city will have policies in place before the 2012 growing season.