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Baraboo Elks Club seeks new home as they vacate Al. Ringling Mansion

January 3, 2019

Baraboo’s Elks Club is looking for a new home.

After more than eight decades at circus impresario Al. Ringling’s historic home at 623 Broadway, the Elks are in the real estate market.

Upon selling the Ringling mansion in 2013, the Elks signed a 10-year lease to continue using the club’s basement-level bar, meeting space and bowling alley. In the meantime, Joe Colossa and his partners have worked to transform the building into a bed-and-breakfast and tourist attraction called the Al. Ringling Mansion. They now plan to turn the home’s ballroom into a microbrewery and restaurant featuring a Ringling family beer recipe.

That enterprise can’t co-exist on the same premises with the Elks, who hold a liquor license of their own. Colossa offered the Elks a $50,000 buyout to terminate the lease early. The club must vacate by Sept. 1, and turn over bar operations April 1.

Elks members have looked at several available buildings, but have struggled to find an affordable property with zoning that would allow the club to keep its liquor license. The 200-member club wants to buy a facility with meeting space and room for a bar and restaurant. Exalted Ruler Andy Luther said the club’s price range is $200,000 to $300,000.

“It’s either they’ve been too expensive or they need lots and lots of work,” Luther said.

The Elks know about expensive properties. One of the reasons they sold the 1905 Ringling home to Colossa, his wife Carmen Torres Colossa and Don Horowitz was the financial burden that came with maintaining a sprawling historic building. In 2010, the Elks spent about $21,000 of their $140,000 budget on utilities, tax records show. In December 2011, the group said more than $100,000 in repairs would be necessary to maintain the facility.

Luther said the club hopes to buy a building and move this spring. A formal separation deal has not been finalized. If necessary, the Elks may meet temporarily at Thunderbird Lanes.

Meanwhile, Colossa said the mansion’s ballroom will host only a few more events in January before construction of the Al. Ringling Brewing Co. begins. “The Elks have been very kind and supportive of the mansion’s plans for expanding with the brewery,” he said. “They understand it’s a necessary addition for the mansion’s survival.”

Colossa estimated it costs $80,000 annually to run the mansion. Plus, the owners are trying to restore the house to its original condition and fill it with Ringling antiques. Restoration has cost $100,000 per year.

The new owners paid $250,000 for the building, which the Elks bought in 1936. As part of the deal, the Elks got a 10-year lease valued at $180,000 on the mansion’s lower level.

Al. and Lou Ringling built the mansion in 1905. It is listed on the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Luther said the Elks will continue touring available properties, and may work with the city on zoning conflicts. “We’re going to keep looking,” he said.

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