Big top for the BigTop: Feld Entertainment finds a home in Manatee County
Kenneth Feld first coveted the giant building in 1995. The former turbine factory had so much space that it could easily house all the components of Feld’s entertainment company. His Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey circus performers could practice their high-wire and trapeze acts in a space more cavernous than several indoor arenas combined. There was abundant room on the 46-acre property for the circus’ elephants, horses and camels and there was even a railroad spur where the circus trains could load and unload. It was perfect, but Feld couldn’t have it.
“It was really too expensive,” he says. “The company just wasn’t large enough yet.”
Since then, Feld Entertainment has more than tripled its business. The circus remains a centerpiece, but it has been joined by the Monster Jam truck series, the Nuclear Cowboyz motorcycle show, Monster Energy Supercross and Amsoil Arenacross. Feld also has licenses to produce Marvel Universe Live! And a slew of Disney shows, including Disney On Ice and Disney Live!
The company’s growth and the promise of $3.3 million in state and county incentives enabled Feld to finally buy that former GE and Siemens plant in Ellenton for $30 million two years ago.
Today, the 580,000-sq.-ft. facility is home to offices, rehearsal space for all of the shows, a warehouse filled with 45 years worth of circus costumes and a 72,000-sq.-ft. garage where Feld’s fleet of 46 monster trucks, including fan favorite Grave Digger, are built and maintained. A separate body shop, where the monster truck’s fiberglass shells are created, has Florida’s biggest paint booth. It can be compartmentalized to paint four of the 10,000-pound trucks at once or opened up to paint a railroad car.
When Ringling’s traveling circuses and other shows are rehearsing, more than 1,000 people may be inside the building, but usually about 450 people work there — enough by themselves to make Feld one of Manatee County’s biggest employers. The size of the building has allowed the company to consolidate operations from Virginia, Illinois and North Carolina, as well as facilities in Tampa and Palmetto.
“We were all over Palmetto,” Feld says. “We had purchasing in one building and transportation in another. We had the scenic shop in a place where the ceilings were so low that if we wanted to see how everything looked, we had to take it outside. We were painting railroad cars outside, and you know that’s not really a good thing in the humidity and rain.”
Feld, who used to work at the company’s corporate offices near Washington, D.C., says the move has been good for the company. Now that everyone is in the same building, people talk more and have a better understanding of all that the company does as opposed to just sticking to their own cubicle.
“The spirit of the company is much better,” he says. “I like to visit and talk to people in every department, not just the corporate offices. I like visiting the scenic shop, the Monster Jam garage. I’m walking three or four miles every day.”