Elephants would still perform at Minneapolis circuses, but the kiddies would no longer get to ride or touch them under a proposed ordinance headed for a City Council vote Friday. If that happens, the show may not go on.

"We'll seriously consider leaving the city if we can't do elephant rides," said Tim Davison, the Minneapolis Shriners' assistant circus chairman. Elephant rides are a highlight of and a moneymaker for the fall shows at Target Center, the group's principal fundraiser.

"That's the effect of having a ban without actually having a ban," Davison added.

Friday's anticipated vote comes nearly a year after a ban of wild animal circuses was first introduced by Council Members Ralph Remington and Cam Gordon. The idea ignited a vigorous debate that attracted local and national animal experts to town. Minneapolis would've been the second major U.S. city besides Albuquerque, N.M., to adopt such a measure.

In September, the council narrowly voted against a ban, and opted instead for a milder proposal of increased regulations, higher permit fees and stiffer fines for circus operators ranging from $500 to $1,000 depending on the violation.

Council Member Paul Ostrow, who wrote the proposed ordinance with colleague Betsy Hodges, called it a "win-win situation for everybody."

'Step in the right direction'

Not willing to go that far, Christine Coughlin, executive director for the local nonprofit Circus Reform Yes (CRY), said this week that her group feels better about the issue compared with four months ago.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Coughlin, who first brought the topic to city leaders nearly eight years ago. "I think the fact that this has taken so long is parallel with broader themes in our society in terms of environmental and animal awareness. We're making inroads."

The proposed ordinance also includes a license fee of $750, on- and off-site inspections at circuses with city animal control staff and contracted veterinarians, likely from the University of Minnesota. The inspections will come at the circus operator's expense.

Since last fall, city staff has met twice with wild animal circus proponents and opponents to reach a common ground.

Last week, a council committee passed the proposed ordinance with Gordon's amendments citing specifically against animal cruelty and neglect, and eliminating the popular elephant rides because of public health and safety concerns.

The Shriners could deal with the increased rules and fees but were taken aback by the Gordon amendments, Davison said. The Shriners have never received any complaints nor have patrons been injured from the rides that cost about $8 last year, he said.

"If they were dangerous, then we wouldn't be able to carry insurance," Davison said. "We have people lining up at our shows to take a ride. Why? They're trying to make it difficult for us because we led the charge against a total ban."

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790