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The Northern Hotel escaped serious damage from an accidental grease fire sparked in the kitchen during remodeling work Thursday. The fire was confined to the duct work and caused $7,000 in damage to the insured building.

So, the work continues. Meanwhile, Chris and Mike Nelson, who bought the trashed-out Northern Hotel and its parking garage last January, have applied for $20 million in federal recovery zone facility bonds. If granted, the federal bonds would cover all but $1 million of the $21 million price tag to purchase and remodel the historic hotel and garage.

One of their companies, Zootist Hospitality LLC, said that renovating and restoring the hotel will be “an extremely expensive and time-consuming endeavor” but will restore the hotel at the corner of North Broadway and First Avenue North to “its former glory.”

When fully staffed, the hotel will employ 100 people and should prompt other downtown business activity when the 160 hotel rooms are open again, according to a letter written by the Nelsons’ attorney. They also plan about 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a lounge, a casual diner and a full-service restaurant.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Zootist must win approval for the bonds from the Billings City Council, which has already said this project fits the requirements for this federal program. The city is charging an administrative fee of $5,000 for its expenses to help issue the bonds.

“The benefit to the Northern is that the interest rate is lower than conventional loans,” said co-owner Mike Nelson. “And it is a benefit to the investor because they get interest that is exempt from federal and state taxes, so it’s a win-win situation.”

The City Council will hear the initial application on Dec. 21, and a public hearing is set for Jan. 11.

First, the hotel owners must find a lender willing to buy the bonds.

The city is acting as a pass-through on the stimulus package and does not back the bonds, so they cannot come back on taxpayers, according to a letter from the hotel owners.

Under the federal stimulus program, Billings received $26,831,000 of bonding authority and Yellowstone County received $9,973,000. But the county handed its share over to the city, so the city has nearly $37 million in bonds to distribute.

The Northern Hotel is the first project to apply for the bonds, which have been a bit of a secret so far.

“We just learned about this in September. The council has adopted a couple of resolutions and sent it to (the Big Sky Economic Development Authority), a couple banks and advertised it,” said Assistant City Administrator Bruce McCandless.

Cool and crafty name

When Monica Maristuen was looking for a name for her gallery and studio, she reached for her dictionary and became intrigued with the name Bailiwick.

Bailiwick means a person’s area of skill and knowledge. According to her research, in London during the 1400s, a bailiff or baili was a cop and the area he patrolled was his wick.

“That is your niche. If you’re a painter, that’s her bailiwick. That’s what you were put on this earth to do,” she said.

In any case, the name fits the newly opened consignment store for crafters by the Log Cabin Bakery at 2409 Second Ave. N., across the street from Payne Financial Group, formerly Hoiness LaBar Insurance.

Maristuen said she likes not only the way the word flowed but also its meaning fit her business perfectly.

Bailiwick sells all flavors of crafts, from paintings to rosemaling to wood carvings, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Maristuen also plans to invite a crafter each month to put on classes, starting with soap making on Jan. 2 by Mary Hernandez of Billings.

A decade downtown

Rockets Gourmet Wraps & Sodas, at 2809 First Ave. N., celebrated its 10th anniversary during the Billings Downtown ArtWalk on Dec. 4. Brian and Gala Thompson started the burrito restaurant in 1999 and moved to First Avenue North five years ago.

The move came with a learning curve. Some things didn’t work as well as planned and some worked out better, including having enough space to handle the lunch crowd, he said.

“We can get more people through the door during that peak time,” he said. “The work environment on our end is so much better, and the customers say they are more comfortable, too.”

The massive remodeling projects at the Babcock Theatre and The Northern Hotel will also bring more people downtown, which is exciting, he said.

Beat you by five

The Montana Brewing Co., the first brew pub in Billings during this modern era and one of the first in the state, celebrated its 15th anniversary Saturday.

“We’re one of the only breweries that has a liquor license, so we’re able to stay open until 2 a.m., instead of four hours a day, and we’re the only one in Billings that serves food,” said Sean Graves, an owner and general manager.

During the recession, the Brewing Co. has offered food-and-drink specials every day to offer customers better value, he said.

Since 1994, the restaurant and brewery at 113 N. Broadway has won more than 40 national awards for its beers and ales. In 2007, the business beat out 967 competitors to be named Best Small Brewery and Brewer at the Great American Beer Festival, which is the largest brewing competition in the U.S.

Budget pinching

A decision last week by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to save a buck, $20,000 to be exact, by halting the printing of the next state directory is shortsighted.

Sure, a majority of folks can hop online to www.mt.gov and look up names and numbers.

But remember that many Montanans, especially rural residents, don’t surf the Internet.

In this state, all but 10 to 15 percent of residents can physically access the wired Internet broadband world. But another 10 to 15 percent who could subscribe choose not to.

That means as many as 30 percent of Montana residents don’t surf the Net. They rely instead on more traditional forms of communication like these state phonebooks to reach the right department and person if they have a problem or a concern.

Out and about

The MET transit Santas are offering employers a better holiday incentive to encourage workers to ride the bus.

The regular monthly adult bus pass costs $22. Under this program, employers can buy them for $15. The discounted pass program has existed for years, but fewer than a dozen businesses participate so the discount was sweetened, said transit manager Ron Wenger.

 “We’re trying to kick-start the downtown transit center. They can either donate the pass to their workers or resell it,” he said.

To learn more, call MET transit at 657-8218.

Scams du jour

Watch out this holiday season for the old-fashioned crimes such as pickpockets and thieves who steal your gifts.

Now, back to the acai berry sales pitches. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has settled a consumer fraud lawsuit against Amir & Sanchez Nutraceuticals of Tucson, Ariz., for $175,000. Goddard claimed that the company and its owners falsely represented products to customers and deceptively enrolled them in “21-day free memberships” for the diet product. Customers couldn’t get through to real people to cancel the unauthorized enrollment.

Finally, ’tis credit report season, and you need to pay attention to how you handle this.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and 42 other state attorneys general are warning people about TV and radio ads touting free credit reports, which aren’t always free. You have the right to obtain at least one free credit report per year from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. But there is only one official Web site that you can trust and that is authorized by the federal government. Even this site tries to get you to buy your credit score, and if you click on one of the company logos, you’ll be bounced to another site.

The unofficial sites often require you to buy something to get a “free” report or hyperlink to other sites that can steal your identity.

The attorneys general and the Better Business Bureau recommend only one official and encrypted Web site: www.annualcreditreport.com.

Or you can call 877-322-8228.

Laugh lines

Here are some winners of the Washington Post’s annual neologism contest, where readers supply alternative word meanings.

Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Arachnoleptic fit(n.), the frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

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