Dottie and Art Knudtson have happy memories of the Northern Hotel.
The Billings couple, in their 80s, ate regularly at the Golden Belle Restaurant. Art worked downtown as a stockbroker and often came to the hotel restaurant for coffee.
They also enjoyed many anniversary dinners there, Dotty said.
“We’ve got one coming up -- our 60th,” she said.
Asked if they planned to celebrate at TEN, the new restaurant, she didn’t hesitate.
“Oh yes,” Dotty said.
The couple joined hundreds of others who came for the ribbon-cutting of the renovated hotel and a peek inside. People poured into the elegantly decorated lobby and took a look inside TEN, which was open for business on Saturday night.
Many also toured the second floor, where they could buy a drink inside the 7,000-square-foot ballroom, or write a memory on a card that will be added to a time capsule. Others checked out the meeting rooms that ringed the ballroom and business suites that also will double as dressing rooms for brides.
“Our first wedding will take place April 13,” said Mary Ann Keenan, director of sales and marketing.
The evening began outside the Northern, with a series of speakers touting the reopening of the downtown landmark.
Co-owner Mike Nelson told the crowd that the employees are itching to have customers to serve and guests to take care of.
“The folks at TEN are reserved and set, the silverware is set, the steaks are frying, the gin is ‘tonic-ing,’ ” he said. “We’re about ready to give the hotel to the city of Billings and we’re so excited.”
He amended his words, saying they couldn’t actually let people use the hotel for free.
“We’ve got a big bank loan to pay off,” he joked.
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His brother and co-owner, Chris Nelson, said they were thrilled for the day to finally arrive. He responded to his brother’s comment that he was brains of the operation by saying the project couldn’t have been completed without Mike.
“He is the man that has made this happen,” Mike Nelson said, “his drive for this job.”
Mayor Tom Hanel called the Northern significant to the city of Billings and the state of Montana, saying Billings is about great people and great places.
“It’s about two brothers and their families that have gone way out on a limb to do something special for us,” Hanel said. “Billings is on the map in many ways, and this just helps a little more.”
Sen. Jon Tester, also on hand for the ceremony, said Billings already has a great downtown.
“But this is really a diamond in that downtown,” he said.
After Judy Povilaitis, Mike Nelson’s wife, cut the red-velvet ribbon that stretched across the west-side door, she stood inside, greeting people in the lobby.
Povilaitis said she has appreciated the outpouring of welcome and memories from the community.
“We have heard people over and over say ‘I had my anniversary here, we were married here, we used to have every special occasion here,' ” she said.
Upstairs in the ballroom, Tracy Livingston, who grew up in Sheridan, Wyo., recalled coming to Billings every year for school shopping downtown and staying at the Northern. Livingston said her clearest memory was of big rooms.
On Saturday, she said she approved of the changes.
“I like what they’ve done with the paint and the remake of the place, it’s very nice,” she said. “We just checked out Bernie’s (Diner) downstairs and we can’t wait to try some food there.”
Dottie and Art Knudtson, who were good friends of Tom and Bernie Nelson, watched Chris and Mike grow up. Asked what Tom Nelson would have thought about the work his sons had done on the hotel, Dottie said he would be speechless.
“He would be so proud of them,” she said.