Wisconsin nonprofits working on Circus World deal

Associated Press

Dec. 12, 2014

In this Oct. 17, 2013 photo, new doors were installed as part of the initial phases of restoration of the Ringling train shed along the Baraboo Riveras in Baraboo, Wis. A $1 million renovation of the unique building which housed train cars that took the "greatest show on Earth" across the country, is complete. The Circus World Museum says it's the longest wooden railroad structure in America.

BARABOO, Wis. Two nonprofits that battled over control of Circus World 18 months ago are now close to a deal that could stabilize operations of the attraction.

The boards governing the Circus World Museum Foundation and the Wisconsin Historical Society are expected to act on the revised lease and management agreement next month. The two groups are hashing out details that would allow either side to terminate the deal and set a timeframe for doing so, said Ellsworth Brown, executive director of the Historical Society.

"I think it's safe to say there are no disagreements," Brown said. "It's all good news."

The Circus World Museum opened in 1959 on the site that served as the winter home of the Ringling brothers' circus from 1884 to 1918. Its permanent collection includes the world's largest collection of authentic circus wagons. The Historical Society owns the Baraboo historic site's collections and grounds. The Circus World Museum Foundation operates the site under a lease and management deal with the state.

The agreement the two groups are working on will determine the conditions under which the deal could be terminated and steps that should be taken to remedy any issues, the Baraboo News Republic reported.

In the event of a significant problem at Circus World, both sides would have the chance to opt out after giving enough notice to allow a succession plan to be established, Brown said. Both parties may decide to increase the timeframe from about 30 days to a year or so, he said.

The nonprofits have made strides since 2013, when the political dispute over the attraction led to the departure of former Circus World Executive Director Steve Freese.

"The tone of our discussions has been positive," said Scott O'Donnell, Circus World's current executive director.

The boards are expected to vote on a draft of the revised agreement in January.