Sunday, June 17, 2018
Business

Clowns, Disney and monster trucks get their start in Manatee County (with video)

ELLENTON — Feld Entertainment, the producer of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has quite a juggling act on its hands at its massive production facility in Ellenton.

The billion-dollar entertainment business designs and produces Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, the Nuclear Cowboyz stunt show and, of course, the circus at its cavernous Feld Entertainment Studios, which opened last year to support its many tours. Enclosed in a complex second only to NASA in size in Florida is a "graveyard" of monster trucks, a field of billboards, circus trains in various stages of rehab and repair, and thousands of glittery costumes that date to the 1970s.

This is also where the company is creating Marvel Universe Live, with Spider-man, Hulk and Iron Man rehearsing under much secrecy for one of its largest and most ambitious shows. And it's where Disney's ice show based on the mega hit movie Frozen will be created before heading on a national tour this fall.

Like a very expensive storage unit, the $8.35 million complex houses two dozen Monster Jam trucks, each worth about $300,000. There's room for two full NHL-sized rinks in operation at the same time for Disney ice shows to practice. Then there are racks upon racks of more than 10,000 bedazzled costumes with dozens of crates of dancing shoes, feathered headdresses and show hats tended to by a crew of milliners and tailors.

Opened in 2013, the facility is still evolving and may get bigger. The site includes 100,000 square feet of office space with an additional 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It was originally developed by the Siemens Corp. and most recently occupied by General Electric.

The company was given almost $4 million in state and local incentives and grants in 2012 to preserve 148 jobs in Manatee County. There are now about 400 workers at Feld, said Casey Rodgers, vice president of financial and strategic planning. The company estimates it will spend $3 billion in Manatee County in the next 20 years in the form of wages, locally bought goods, taxes and other expenses.

While Feld is using the site for its own touring shows, Rodgers said the company will branch out and rent its space to other companies. ESPN, for instance, recently filmed a commercial with former Alabama football player C.J. Mosley on a gladiator-style field of battle.

"This is the only place where you can have the space of a rehearsal hall and steps away you can have people who can make any prop or sew any costume," Rodgers said.

The complex could end up being the reason some of the biggest concert tours and Broadway shows end up in Tampa.

When someone like mega pop star Katy Perry plans tours, she has to rent the Staples Center in Los Angeles for weeks to plot the lighting, pyrotechnics and choreography before they hit the road. Rodgers foresees a time when Feld can compete for that kind of star power, bringing world-class concerts and Broadway shows to the Manatee County facility. And then the next stop: Tampa.

About 30 million people attend one of Feld's 5,000 live entertainment shows every year. Forbes magazine estimated Feld's 2013 revenues at about $1 billion a year. Executives decline to elaborate on specific revenue figures of the private company.

Juliette Feld, the third generation running the family business, said the Marvel Universe Live show that she is in the midst of producing would not be possible without this facility.

The highly anticipated Marvel show, described as "bringing a movie to life" with stunts and special effects, makes its debut July 10 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum before touring 85 cities.

"We could not have put on a show of this magnitude without those studios," Feld said.

 
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