The Circus Conservatory of America is leaving its leased facility on Thompson’s Point in Portland, slowing its efforts to become a full-fledged college for the circus arts.

The proposed school, first announced at a news conference two years ago, has been hailed by officials as a marquee addition to the city’s creative economy and a key component of the $100 million Thompson’s Point redevelopment project.

Peter Nielsen, the school’s president, said Wednesday he still intends to see the school operating on Thompson’s Point in the future. Nielsen said he and the board decided to stop leasing a brick building there, where recreational classes in aerials and circus arts have been offered since January, to devote more time and money toward establishing the conservatory as a degree-granting college.

A slate of classes to be given this fall, which had been advertised on the school’s website Wednesday morning, has been canceled.


Vacating the Thompson’s Point building leaves the school without a bricks-and-mortar facility, a development that has forced the postponement of a three-day, on-site Maine Department of Education review of the school scheduled to be done by a committee of educators beginning Sunday, said Angel Loredo, higher education specialist with the department.


Loredo said the Circus Conservatory has completed four of nine basic steps required for an institution to be considered for degree-granting status. He said Nielsen requested a postponement via email Monday, and that the review can be rescheduled as soon as the conservatory has a site for the committee to visit.

“They would have to find a permanent place,” Loredo said. “We’d be looking at the facilities and the learning resources.”

Nielsen said the school and Forefront Partners, the company redeveloping the former rail yard on Thompson’s Point, “mutually agreed” to terminate the lease. He said the school needed to spend its time and money on finding a permanent home, rather than on giving recreational classes.

“The only reason we’re doing this is to focus on developing the college,” Nielsen said. “We decided to focus on the long-term goals rather than the short term.”

When recreation classes on Thompson’s Point began at the start of the year, the school was touted as the first tenant in the redevelopment of the Thompson’s Point property, which also is designed to include arts groups, retail, a hotel and residences. A 5,000-capacity outdoor music venue began hosting concerts there this year. The 30-acre parcel is on the Fore River, off outer Congress Street.

Nielsen said in January that the 10,000-square-foot leased building was for “training” and that a new 60,000-square-foot building would have to be built on Thompson’s Point to hold the rest of the school.


Nielsen still wants the school to be on Thompson’s Point, eventually. He said he and the board are beginning to look into getting a new facility, so the state review can be rescheduled. When asked if the delays facing the school were caused by financial problems, Nielsen said “there is a lot of money to be raised” to get the school operating.

He said the school hired the firm of Howeler and Yoon Architecture, of Boston, to create preliminary designs for a conservatory building. Those can be seen on the firm’s website.

Nielsen said that in the first year of planning for a Portland school, his organization paid around $130,000 as a deposit for the possible purchase of land on Thompson’s Point. About $76,000 of that amount was later applied to the lease of the 10,000-square-foot building there, Nielsen said, and the rest was used to renovate that building for use.


Forefront Partners principal Chris Thompson, who is listed as a member of the school’s advisory board, was out of town Wednesday. He emailed a brief statement about the conservatory but didn’t give specific details about the lease or the future of the school on Thompson’s Point.

“We continue to believe in this vision (of a circus college) and wish the conservatory well as it continues to make strides toward this achievement,” Thompson wrote.


Nielsen sent a letter out last week to students who took recreational classes – in subjects such as aerial circus skills – at the Thompson’s Point location over the summer, saying classes would be suspended indefinitely. Nielsen said no one had registered for the classes and no money had been collected for them.

City officials are aware of the conservatory leaving Thompson’s Point, but are still “hopeful” it will open someday in the city, said Jessica Grondin, Portland’s communications director.

On the conservatory’s website, Nielsen lists his past experience, including serving as executive director of institutional advancement, marketing and enrollment for Vermont College of Fine Arts. He also has run his own company, HigherMind Mediaworks, providing “strategic marketing and enrollment management guidance.”

Nielsen first announced his organization’s intention to create a circus college on Thompson’s Point more than two years ago. At a news conference on Thompson’s Point in August 2013, Thompson wore a red clown’s nose. Nielsen said then that Thompson’s Point was “the best place in the world” for a college-level circus school.

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