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Historic Minnesota Avenue bar sells, and developers plan to turn it into apartments

Historic Minnesota Avenue bar sells, and developers plan to turn it into apartments

From the Eateries that have come (and gone) in Billings in 2018 series
Western and Wheel bar

The Western and Wheel bar buildings on the 2700 block of Minnesota Avenue will be turned into apartments. Pictured Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

An historic Minnesota Avenue landmark, the Western bar, was sold earlier this month to an illumination company that aims to convert the building into office space and apartments.  

The Western had been on the market for seven or eight years, said Chuck Platt, the real estate broker who handled the sale. Platt had come close to selling the place a few times during the years.

Buyers were initially interested in turning the Western into an eatery of some kind or a specialized restaurant, he said. But any time he and a potential buyer got close to inking a deal, it would fall through.

"We were unable to get those put together," he said. 

And then earlier this year, Platt was approached by Jack English, who owns Illumination Systems, a lighting company based in Denver with offices in Colorado Springs and Billings. 

The front door of the Western bar

The front door of the Western bar on the 2700 block of Minnesota Avenue is blocked by a metal grate Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

Illumination was looking for a new place to put its Billings office, and the building presented that opportunity. The building, one of the first built in Billings, is located within the city's original township and was constructed in 1894. 

English and his partners want to remodel the building and place the Illumination Systems office there while converting the rest of the space into apartments. 

The purchase of the Western is one more step in a Minnesota Avenue renaissance. During the past decade the street has slowly transformed from rundown blight to downtown hotspot.

Western bar

Buildings are reflected in the glass blocks on the Western bar on the 2700 block of Minnesota Avenue on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

Years before that, Minnesota Avenue was one of the most rough-and-tumble streets in downtown Billings, home to a string of bars — like the Western and the Wagon Wheel — that drew sometimes rowdy crowds. Even after the bars closed and the crowds went away, the street kept its reputation. 

That's why Platt was eager to get some type of eatery or entertainment venue to buy the Western. Commercially, it would have made Minnesota that much more attractive, he said.

Still, he's pleased Illumination Systems is moving in; for downtown Billings to really come into its own it needs more people to live there, he said. It needs apartment space.


Retrospective: Minnesota Avenue

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