Dolly and Pedro Reis speak at the opening of the new Sailor Circus Arena.

Image: Gigi Ortwein

A long-awaited dream came true on Tuesday, April 9, with the grand opening and dedication of the renovated Sailor Circus Arena on Bahia Vista Street, the historic home of the nonprofit program that has taught the circus arts, along with life skills, to generations of students for 70 years.

At both a morning VIP preview and an evening dinner, the arena, subject of a year-long, $4.5 million renovation, was unveiled. Among its many innovations, the 28,050-square-foot building now boasts expanded restrooms, a brand-new lighting system, professional catering and concession space, an impact sports floor in the center of the arena (where Sailor Circus performers demonstrated their considerable skills at the evening event), and, for the first time, an air conditioning system that cools the entire arena.

The ribbon-cutting to officially open the new arena.

Image: Gigi Ortwein

It all comes just in time for the Sailor Circus’ spring season of shows, taking place the weekends of April 18 and 25. Circus Arts Conservatory founders Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs were on hand Tuesday along with board members, donors and some of the parents, staffers and volunteers whose support keeps the program going. (Sailor Circus is one of three major area of focus for the CAC, which also presents Circus Sarasota each winter and offers a humor therapy program in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult care centers.)

Inside the new arena, which has air conditioning for the first time in Sailor Circus history.

Image: Gigi Ortwein

The original capital campaign for the arena had a goal of $4 million, which it has exceeded. At Tuesday’s dinner, organizers said they hoped to raise even more money for an endowment fund.

In its improved form, the arena has a maximum seating capacity of 2,287 (more than the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, but slightly less than Robarts Arena). That translates to 1,586 fixed seats and 678 non-fixed seats, and it means the structure is now going to be available as an event space for formal and corporate events. Weddings, business meetings, seminars, trade shows and more could find a rental home here.

But for the kids aged 8-18 who train here day after day, it’s a permanent home—and one with cool, new air conditioning. Their next show, Once Upon a Circus, opens April 18, with shows Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 27. For ticket info, call 355-9805 or go to circusarts.org.

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