Baraboo OKs grant for Ringling-themed brew pub

March 28, 2019

Baraboo gave its blessing Tuesday to a fledgling brewpub’s search for grant funding.

The Al. Ringling Mansion’s owners are seeking a state grant to help pay for transforming part of the building into Al. Ringling Brewing Co. The business needed city support to get Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. funds. The grant would pay for 30 percent of the owners’ renovation cost, roughly $1 for every $3 spent.

Brewery manager Jon Bare said the construction reimbursement grant is “going to allow us to increase the scale, scope and timing of our project.” He said it would help pay for construction of an outdoor beer garden, and get it done before summer. “We definitely don’t want to miss this summer if we can avoid that,” Bare said.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the grant application.

The brewery and restaurant are being launched by five partners — mansion owners Don Horowitz and Joe and Carmen Colossa, as well as Bare and brewmaster Griffin James. They’re undertaking a $400,000 renovation to repurpose a 5,000-square-foot ballroom formerly operated by the local Elks Club, installing a bar, bathrooms and a mezzanine level. Their concept is built around a Ringling family beer recipe Joe Colossa discovered while restoring one of the mansion’s rooms.

The Elks Club, which has called the building at 623 Broadway home since 1936, is set to vacate by April 1 after accepting a cash offer from the mansion’s owners. It will relocate to the lower level of the Masonic Lodge downtown while looking for a permanent clubhouse.

The Elks sold the 1905 building to Horowitz and the Colossas in 2013 and signed a lease allowing them use of the building’s lower level for club activities. The basement features a bar and bowling alley.

Brewery tanks and a storage area will replace the bowling alley. An archive of Ringling family artifacts will replace the bar area. Upstairs, the mansion’s owners phased out hosting weddings and community events so work could begin on transforming the hall into the brewery and restaurant.

“It’s a major change in downtown in many respects,” City Administrator Ed Geick told the council.

The brewery partners are seeking the state grant and a bank loan to help pay for the renovation. They wrote in their grant application: “With the rising popularity of craft breweries and the potential of Al. Ringling Brewing Co. to become a statewide destination, we will not only bring in enough income to support the mansion’s preservation and (the) museum, we will also bring in more tourism tax dollars for Baraboo.”

While the owners are paying for much of the renovation themselves, Joe Colossa said grant money would be a key addition. “It would help us a great deal,” he told the council.

Once open, the brewery and 200-seat restaurant would employ 10 people immediately, perhaps more later. The brewpub will feature a seven-barrel brew house on what is now the ballroom’s stage. For the short term, all beer made there would be sold on-site.