When the Pub Station opened inside the old downtown bus depot on the day before Thanksgiving in 2014, Sean Lynch hoped to be able to expand into the larger, rear portion of the depot within five years.
The Pub Station has been so well received that he and his wife and business partner, Ann Kosempa, are planning to put on their first show in the venue’s new ballroom in early January.
“We’re way ahead of schedule,” Lynch said Wednesday. “We did more than double our projections in both the first and second years.”
Workers were swarming over the cavernous ballroom space Wednesday, finishing the Sheetrock walls, welding and doing concrete work to level out the floors, which used to be heavily sloped for drainage in what were then bus bays.
Lynch and Kosempa lease the building at 2505 First Ave. N. from another couple, Mike Mathew and Kay Foster, with an option to buy after five years. Mathew said Wednesday that Lynch and Kosempa are financing the expansion themselves, expenditures that will be applied to the purchase price when that time comes.
Lynch said they obtained financing through Rocky Mountain Bank, which has been nothing but helpful and encouraging.
“They were very positive about whatever we wanted to do,” Lynch said.
O2 Architects designed the ballroom, as it did the original Pub Station. Lynch said the most expensive single aspect of the remodel involved tearing out the wall that separated the bus bays, then putting up a huge iron support beam and columns. That job alone cost about $40,000 he said.
But all the expense will also result in considerable savings. Lynch, who books music through his production company, 11:11 Presents, has had to use outside venues for bigger shows since the Pub Station opened. By bringing all the acts into his own venue, he said, he expects to save $100,000 a year.
A big part of the equation is profiting off the bar for in-house shows. With the Pub Station booking shows something like 250 nights a year, it’s possible to break even or make a small profit even when ticket sales are disappointing. When, as is more common, ticket sales are strong, the profit is just that much better.
The 6,000-square-foot ballroom, which can also be rented for events, will have its own smaller bar. Big barn doors separating the ballroom from the existing bar will be thrown open so concert-goers can use both bars. Lynch said they will be having some shows with no seats and others with carbaret-style chairs and tables.
The first show, featuring roots-music standard bearer David Bromberg on Jan.10, will be a cabaret-style show. Also under construction, on the east end of the ballroom, is a two-level riser, with room for about 125 people, that will usually feature a mix of regular and high-top tables and chairs.
Lynch and Kosempa, who bought all-new sound equipment when they opened the Pub Station, will be investing in another, larger sound system for the ballroom. Total capacity in the expanded venue will be 800.
Not counting arena-like spaces at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman or the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings, the new ballroom “will pretty much be the biggest music venue from Missoula to Fargo, and then down till you hit Fort Collins,” Colorado, Lynch said.
Lynch said their goal is to make the new concert venue as safe and comfortable as possible, and to help meet that goal they have invested in an oversize heating and air-conditioning system.
Mathew, for his part, is paying to have a new roof installed over part of the ballroom space. His request for a $38,750 loan from the Downtown Revolving Loan Fund will be considered by the Billings City Council this coming Monday.
To supplement the two existing green rooms for performers, Lynch and Kosempa are also adding a sink, refrigerator, television, washer and dryer and private bathroom, all reserved for visiting musicians and their crews.