Owners of Empire Steel Manufacturing Co. will close the business after 55 years and auction off its equipment starting next month.
"We're just quitting the business and retiring," said Tom Breen, who owns Empire Steel with his brother Bill Breen.
They have long considered selling the business.
"We've talked to a lot of tire-kickers over the years," Tom Breen said.
But no one ever made an offer that was serious enough, so the brothers decided to shut down the business and auction off its equipment. James G. Murphy Co. of Kenmore, Washington, is handling the auction. The company specializes in heavy industrial equipment. Empire also has surplus steel on hand.
"It's got a massive inventory of steel," said Ray Gombiski at Murphy Co.
The auction includes everything from common metalworking tools to specialized equipment like submerged arc welding lines used for welding giant steel containers. The auction is set for Dec. 13 with an on-site preview scheduled for Dec. 12.
The Breens also will sell their buildings and the Empire Steel lot, which stretches three city blocks from North 15th Street to North 18th Street along Sixth Avenue North.
It's an enormous piece of downtown property in a corner of Billings that is almost all industrial, said Tim Goodridge, coordinator of the East Billings Urban Renewal District.
"That's probably the biggest hunk of real estate to go up" for sale in recent memory, he said. "The potential is huge. It's really exciting."
The twist is that it's a county parcel that was never annexed into the city.
"It's a county island," Goodridge said. "That's another level of complexity."
While Goodridge laments the loss of the high-paying manufacturing jobs that Empire Steel brought to the area, he sees the "page turning" as an opportunity for downtown Billings to continue its transformation.
"It'll be a chance for a fundamental change," he said.
He hopes to see the property developed into something that includes residential and commercial use. Residential development is an important component to the economic health of downtown. A developing area needs "a certain number of rooftops" in order for the surrounding businesses to thrive, he said.
"The potential is there," he said.