Big Apple Circus to leave bankruptcy under new owners

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This May 6, 2007 file photo shows Barry Lubin, as " Grandma,” performing in the Big Apple Circus in Boston. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may be shuttering, but Big Apple Circus has managed to cartwheel itself out of bankruptcy.

A judge on Tuesday approved a deal that would save the circus by selling its tents, equipment and intellectual property to Big Top Works, an affiliate of the Florida-based investment firm Compass Partners LLC. Compass was the previous winning bidder at an asset auction with a $1.3 million offer.

The nonprofit Big Apple Circus, which can now celebrate its 40th year, filed a Chapter 11 petition in November, seeking to continue operating, albeit in a diminished way. The circus said its debts amounted to $8.3 million, against assets of $3.8 million, in its Chapter 11 filing.

Neil Kahanovitz, a partner at Big Top Works who is a former circus performer, in a statement called the Big Apple Circus “a cultural gem” and said, “We couldn’t let this beloved American pastime just disappear.”

The Big Apple Circus was begun in 1977 by circus performers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, and at its height staged more than 300 shows in an intimate, one-ring Big Top setting. By 1979 the Circus was generating enough money to fund two Circus Arts Schools and in 1983, launched its first tour. Chicago became soon became a tour stop for the troupe, led most notably by the legendary high-haired clown Bello Nock.

Talks are under way to for the circus to return to its longtime home at Lincoln Center this fall.

Ringling Bros. recently announced it will close in May after 146 years, citing falling ticket sales, high operating costs and changing public tastes in entertainment.

MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

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