Gazette opinion: Northern reborn: Nelsons restore Billings landmark

2013-03-19T00:00:00Z 2013-03-19T13:10:04Z Gazette opinion: Northern reborn: Nelsons restore Billings landmark The Billings Gazette
March 19, 2013 12:00 am

Breakfast at Bernie’s is an eye-opener. The new Northern Hotel has transformed the southeast corner of First and Broadway into one of the brightest, most beautiful spots in downtown Billings.

The gleaming lunch counter lined with bar stools is a step back in time. Comfy chairs and booths come with a view of the heart of Billings. Few eateries provide cloth napkins at breakfast, but here each one is emblazoned with the Bernie’s script logo. The coffee cups are generous and servers are prompt with refills. The menu varies from longstanding favorites to fare with a new flare.

Bernie’s diner is a welcome addition to the downtown scene, and it’s just one feature of the completely renovated Northern. The lobby’s wide hearth beckons guests with a warm fire on a chilly morning. Dark wood, leather and richly patterned carpet set a sophisticated tone on the second floor for meetings and large group events.

Revitalization of the Northern has long been a top priority for downtown Billings business advocates. So this weekend’s grand opening events drew Montana dignitaries and crowds of curious folks. They celebrated years of work by Chris and Mike Nelson. These Billings brothers transformed a long-neglected local landmark into a handsome, modern hotel that reflects its history while offering the amenities that 21st century businesses and hotel guests expect.

The Nelsons purchased the 70-year-old building in 2009 at a sheriff’s auction. Since then, these entrepreneurs have persevered despite the worst recession in 80 years. The result is an upscale hotel with 160 guest rooms, ballrooms, conference rooms, business suites, two restaurants and a bar.

The brothers named the restaurants Bernie’s and TEN after their mother, Bernie Nelson, and their father, Tom E. Nelson. Old friends of the couple say the parents would have loved the hotel their sons have built.

The $30 million renovation took the building down to studs and beams, putting many Billings area businesses and residents to work. The new hotel has hired about 150 staff members.

Congratulations to Mike and Chris Nelson on a huge job well done. Welcome to downtown!

If you haven’t seen the new Northern, you ought to drop by for a meal or a drink. Those who’ve already taken a look know why they will want to come back again.

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