Protesters, fans come out for Tampa's last circus

Opening night for the Ringling Brothers Circus marked the end of a legacy in entertainment on Wednesday in Tampa.

After 146 years, the circus is set to close at the end of its tour in May.

There were mixed emotions both inside and outside of a packed Amalie Arena.

Some families, like Jeff Shrwalter and his adult daughter, Kim Hartney, said going to see the acrobatics and the animals had become a family tradition.

"It was really something that I thought I'd get to share with my kids going down, and it looks like it's coming to an end," said Hartney.

"It's very sad! We’re from down by Venice, and we used to watch the red unit and the blue unit every year," said Shrwalter.

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The loss of the circus will also be felt at Tampa General Hospital. Over the past 12 years, the circus has raised more than $3 million for the TGH Foundation.

“This is an opportunity for people to bring their children, for their children to understand what fundraising is about and giving back to the community," said Robin Delavergne, Executive Director with the TGH Foundation.

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Delavergne said the foundation expects to raise $240,000 through the circus by Sunday. They are now looking for other fundraising opportunities to make up for the loss in circus funding in future years.

Across the street from Amalie Arena, protesters with Voices for Animals said they are excited about the closure, knowing the circus animals will no longer be put to work.

“It’s been 20 years that I’ve been coming out here every year," said protester Marie Galbraith. “I was so happy that the circus is ending.”

Circus officials said they were forced to end the show due to operation costs rising while ticket sales continuously drop. 

RELATED: Circus closure will put hundreds out of work, displace dozens of animals

The circus has also faced years of lawsuits from animal rights advocates for alleged cruelty to animals. In 2016, pressure from PETA led the circus to remove elephants from its acts.

“We do not want them to be abused in the manner they are, and they do not need to be in entertainment. They need to be in their natural habitat, which is free," said Galbraith.

Protesters said they are hopeful that the circus animals will be taken to animal sanctuaries once the show shuts down.

Ringling Brothers will perform 30 shows through May. The show will be in Tampa through Sunday.