Josh Oliver, technical director of Circus Maine, shown in 2015, said several factors contributed to the closure of the circus school on Thompson’s Point. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

After more than two years of offering classes in circus skills and putting on eclectic shows and cabaret performances, Circus Maine on Thompson’s Point has closed.

The for-profit business closed at the end of March after several months of declining revenues, said Josh Oliver, technical director of Circus Maine. Oliver said that the business made most of its money in the summer, and after a winter of revenue shortfalls, he was unable to secure financing to keep the business going.

About 184 people were enrolled in classes when the circus school closed, and Oliver said he wasn’t sure if or when everybody would get their money back.

“Each month there was little more of a shortfall,” Oliver said. “We’ll give refunds the best we can.”

Circus Maine opened in the fall of 2015 on Thompson’s Point, a redeveloped industrial area on the Fore River in Portland that features a mix of arts and cultural destinations. The development includes Cellardoor Winery, Bissell Brothers brewery, the International Cryptozoology Museum, Stroudwater Distillery, a winter skating rink and outdoor concerts put on by the State Theatre.

Chris Thompson, one of the partners in the Thompson’s Point development, said the closing of Circus Maine caught him by surprise. He said there is no business lined up to take Circus Maine’s place, but he hopes to get another tenant with a focus on arts and culture.

“They were good folks to work with, so it was a huge disappointment to us that they closed,” Thompson said. The teaching component of Circus Maine, called the Maine Circus Academy, lists some 30 classes online, with skill levels ranging from toddler to adult. Some courses dealt with learning how to use aerial equipment, like hoops and a trapeze. Others taught hand balancing, tumbling, physical comedy and stage combat. Costs ranged from about $10 for one class to $185 for a weekly class lasting about three months.

Circus Maine also held cabaret performances in its space at Thompson’s Point and put on circus performances for hire, at private or public events. The group performed at the Sunaana music festival held annually in March on Thompson’s Point.

Though many factors contributed to Circus Maine’s financial problems, Oliver said, he pointed to two recent changes that helped usher the closing. One, he said, was the institution of a $2 per hour parking fee about a year ago for customers of Thompson’s Point businesses. For the first year or more Circus Maine was there, parking was free at Thompson’s Point.

Oliver thought part of the reason class enrollment had declined recently was that some people probably didn’t want to pay $4 to park two hours for a $10 class.

But Thompson said that all Thompson’s Point tenants knew that parking fees would be instituted eventually.

“We waited a lot longer than we thought we would (to start pay parking) so that businesses would have a chance to settle in,” Thompson said. Tenant businesses have the option of validating customers’ parking, essentially paying the parking fee for them, he said.

Oliver also said that Circus Maine lost revenue when Thompson’s Point began enforcing a prohibition about renting out spaces to third parties for events. Oliver said about once a month Circus Maine would rent its space to someone else for an event.

Oliver said renting the space seemed like a “gray area” to him, but admitted “it might have been part of the deal all along.” Thompson said the lease agreement specifically prohibits tenants from renting out their space for one-time events.

Circus Maine is the second circus-related organization to leave Thompson’s Point. The Circus Conservatory of America had planned to operate a circus arts school for would-be professionals and regular folks. The conservatory started giving recreational classes at Thompson’s Point in early 2015, but closed in September of that year.

Oliver was working for the Circus Conservatory of America at the time, and he and fellow circus professionals started Circus Maine. The new group leased the 6,000-square-foot space – in a historic brick building at Thompson’s Point – that had housed Circus Conservatory of America.

The Circus Maine staff, consisting of about 16 people listed on the website, included former circus performers. Oliver, for instance, was a performer and circus technician who worked for Cirque Du Soleil in Montreal. Oliver said he and others involved with Circus Maine would probably leave the state for circus jobs elsewhere, including Montreal and Orlando, Florida.

Thompson’s Point recently lost another tenant, Big J’s Chicken Shack, which closed at the end of March. But another tenant has been announced for that space. A restaurant from Locally Sauced, a food cart that serves burritos, tacos and barbecue, is scheduled to open in May.

The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine is planning to move from Free Street downtown to Thompson’s Point in the next two years or so. Construction on a new building for the organization is scheduled to begin this summer.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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