The Rex, the historic hotel and restaurant on Montana Avenue in downtown Billings, has been purchased after it suddenly closed and was put on sale a year ago.
Rick Larson, founder of EBMS, the Billings-based health care service provider, is the new owner. Mike Schaer, the downtown developer, said Larson plans to remodel the property and reopen the restaurant.
Larson was represented by T&E Realty's Emilio Campos, who reached out at the end of the day Monday to talk about the sale, reaching a reporter Tuesday morning.
"It's a fun deal," he said. "I'm glad it was bought by someone local. (The Rex) is a great icon."
The sale had been in the works for much of February and early March; it was finalized on Thursday.
As part of the sale, the state Office of Consumer Protection announced Monday that customers who still owned Rex gift cards that had not yet been redeemed would be provided a way to get their money back.
Customers with gift cards are instructed to mail the original gift card to the Moulton Bellingham P.C. law firm, P.O. Box 2559, Billings, 59103-2559 and address it to "The Rex Gift Card Reimbursement."
Along with the gift card, customers should include a written and signed statement that includes the cardholder's full name, mailing address, phone number and email along with the amount remaining on the card. They're also instructed to keep a photo copy of the card until the reimbursement arrives.
Anyone with questions can call the Office of Consumer Protection at 406-444-4500 or toll-free at 1-800-481-6896.
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The Rex closed unexpectedly in February 2017. At the time, Gene Burgad, who had owned the Rex for 35 years, said he was selling the business to his assistant manager. Burgad had said he believed the deal would close in a matter of days and the restaurant would then be back open soon thereafter.
Instead, no sale was ever finalized, and the Rex sat vacant for more than a year. Burgad has not spoken publicly about it since he announced the closure.
Schaer, who has long been a vocal proponent for the revitalization of Montana Avenue, has developed a number of properties near the Rex in the past three decades.
Montana Avenue anchors some of Billings' most active nightlife spots. From roughly North 26th Street — which features Dickey's Barbecue on one side of the street and Carter's Brewing on the other — down to North 22nd Street, home to Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill, Montana Avenue has become a true downtown destination.
The Rex sits right in the middle of it all. In 1910, Alfred Heimer, a cook for Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show, built what he named the Rex Hotel next to the railroad tracks.
Schaer has closely watched the Rex property since it closed last year and has been hopeful the building would sell and that the restaurant would continue in some guise.
The finalized deal will do just that. The new owners plan to "remodel it and open it up again," Schaer said.