Bryan Stafford was standing in the front room of a century-old building on Montana Avenue, surrounded by piles of dirt, heaps of salvaged brick and an assortment of construction equipment.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “a week from now we’ll be pouring a new concrete floor.”
That’s one hope. Another is to have the building ready for an unveiling by the holidays. It will be called 2905, its address on Montana Avenue, and it will be a small event space, available for parties, weddings, meetings, whatever people want.
Stafford and his wife, Dr. Grace Kim, who recently purchased the building, also hope to host events of their own, one idea being to have live music during catered Sunday brunches. Since other venues offer bluegrass breakfasts, Stafford said, it might be nice to bring in a classical string quartet.
“A Bach brunch, or something like that,” he said. “We’re just throwing spaghetti on the refrigerator right now. We’ll see what sticks.”
Stafford and Kim already own the Billings Open Studio, in the Kress Building at 2814 Second Ave. N., run by Grace’s brother, Ted Kim. Their original plan was to make that space available for gatherings, but it has gradually filled up with individual artists’ and community studios.
“It just sort of happened that the price on this place came down just as Grace was looking at other opportunities,” Stafford said.
The two-story brick building was built in 1914 and apparently started life as a café. Polk Directories in the Montana Room of the Billings Public Library show that it served a variety of uses over the years: it housed the Carlin Café in the late 1920s, a soft-drink shop in the early 1930s, Brown’s American Cleaners in 1940, Shep’s Barber Shop and Tillie’s Beauty Shop in 1955, and Family Service Inc. in 1974.
Most recently, it was the main office for First National Pawn, which consolidated several stores, including one next door to 2905 Montana Ave., into one large store on Broadwater Avenue in 2011. The pawn shop space is now occupied by the Billings Army Navy Surplus Store. On the other side of 2905 is Bohemian Music & Body Piercing.
A couple of years ago, chef Jason Corbridge looked into relocating his Café DeCamp to the 2905 space, but eventually he abandoned the project.
Corbridge had already done quite a bit of demolition, which has made Stafford’s job easier. He and his wife also stuck with Corbridge’s architect, Scott Atwood, since he had done extensive work on floor plans, utility location and other key aspects of the remodel.
Stafford said the long, narrow space has about 2,200 square feet. The room just inside the front door will be the main space, with a smaller room in the middle and bathrooms and a kitchenette in the rear. The official occupancy load for the space will be 123 people. A couple of apartments will continue to occupy the second floor.
There is definitely a need for a smaller event space in downtown Billings, Stafford said. The Billings Depot is a good, popular event space, he said, but it is also quite large.
And as with the Billings Open Studio, Stafford said he hopes 2905 will draw more and more people to downtown Billings, which has grown increasingly vibrant in recent years.
“The way everything’s going here in Billings, there’s just a lot of potential for different stuff,” Stafford said. “There’s so much churning.”
Stafford, who is originally from Colorado, said he was a remodeling contractor for many years and has been a computer programmer for the past 20 years. His wife is a semi-retired physician in private practice.
Stafford got back into the remodeling business when they bought a few small rental homes. They decided to take on the Billings Open Studio after Ted Kim moved to Billings a few years ago and was looking for a spot to put a film and photographic studio. Stafford has been doing most of the work on 2905 himself, calling on Ted Kim and some other part-time help as needed.
“It’s no huge deal,” Stafford said, gesturing around at his latest work in progress, “but it’s taking another building from being an empty hull and turning it into something useful.”