The new owners of the Montana Avenue building that houses the Charitable Works Office of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul plan to start renovating the three-story structure as soon as St. Vincent moves out.
Vicki Massie, volunteer coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul, which has been without a director since Ed Zabrocki resigned in January, said the charity office should be in its new building south of the railroad tracks by the end of July. (See related story.)
Jeremiah Young said he and Rudi Marten and a third, silent partner are planning a “significant investment” in the building at 2601 Montana Ave., hoping to attract a restaurant or retail tenant for the street-level space and a mid-size professional firm or firms to occupy the second and third floors. The building also includes a full basement and 10 parking spots in the St. Vincent lot just across the railroad tracks.
Young, who operates the Kibler & Kirch design studio on North Broadway, is partnering with Marten, who with his parents owns Clark Marten Photography, immediately east of the St. Vincent de Paul charity office. His parents, Clark and Rachel Marten, also own the building their studio is in, and Rudi Marten lives in a loft apartment above the studio.
Marten said his role would be managing the new building, just as he is managing his parents’ building. Young will take the lead in designing and superintending the renovation of the St. Vincent building. Their silent partner is involved in real estate.
St. Vincent is also trying to sell its adjoining and much larger thrift store building. Young said his partners have the right of first refusal on the purchase of the thrift store, which is also expected to move in the Crane Building, at 3005 First Ave. S., sometime in the coming year.
But the thrift store building is so large that they, or probably any developer, would have to have a tenant before renovation began, Young said.
“You don’t buy that building on spec,” he said.
It’s also a difficult building to assess because it is so full of secondhand goods on every level, Young said, and buyers couldn’t be sure of what they’re getting until it is cleared out.
In the charity office building, Marten said, he and his partners intend to install an elevator and new stairs, going up from what is now the chapel, just to the right as you enter the building from Montana Avenue. If one firm wanted both upper floors, Young said, they would like to create a center atrium, similar to what the Martens did in their photo studio, a space designed by Young.
St. Vincent offers services to their clients, or “friends” as they call them, on the first floor, services that include breakfast and lunch, counseling, medical help, a washer and dryer and public bathrooms—virtually the only bathrooms downtown open to everyone.
St. Vincent has a few offices on the second floor, looking out over Montana Avenue, and some space behind the offices is used for salvaging metal from unsellable appliances or other consumer goods, like exercise equipment, and a few other chores.
Young and Marten are most excited about the third floor because it was never used by St. Vincent for anything but storage, and it already looks as though it has been partially gutted and ready for renovation. Unlike the second floor, it is also wide-open, giving visitors a clear idea of the space and what Young called the “fabulous” views onto Montana Avenue in front and the rail corridor and neighboring businesses out back.
The three partners bought the building from St. Vincent in December, a purchase that helped make it possible for the charitable organization to buy the Crane Building.
Another group of buyers almost got the building before Young, Marten and their partner had a chance to buy it. But the other buyers wanted to use the top two floors for residential space, Young said, and pulled out when they learned that the BNSF Railway, which owns the land the building sits on, would not allow any more residential development.
That’s not quite accurate, according to Ernie Dutton, the real estate agent who donated his services to St. Vincent as it worked to sell the old building and move into the new one. Dutton said the other buyers never actually spoke to the railroad, but were scared off by what happened across the tracks at the Mintana Mills building.
As we reported earlier, a couple were hoping to convert the Mintana Mills building, a little southeast of the St. Vincent building, into six residential units but were denied permission by BNSF. That building is now being renovated into a commercial space.
Word quickly spread that BNSF would not be allowing any more trackside residential development, even though a railway spokesman in Billings said at the time that there was no blanket policy to that effect.
That spokesman, Ross Lane, said much the same thing Wednesday.
“It is not BNSF policy to reject all lease applications that include a residential component,” Lane said in an email. “We continue to review applications on an individual basis and strongly urge developers and other interested parties to reach out to BNSF before entering into a buy-sell agreement. Existing lease holders should reach out to BNSF if they have any questions or concerns.”
At any rate, when those other buyers pulled out, Young and Marten moved in, since they thought they could find commercial tenants for the building. They said they’d like to see a restaurant on the ground floor, but will work with anyone interested in the space. And though it be would nice to keep the ground floor wide open, they would also consider making two units out of it.
The three partners might get involved in future projects, Marten and Young said, but their intention is to stay downtown, since that’s where they all work and it is the part of town they want to promote and encourage.
“And we’ve all been involved in renovating old buildings, so we go into it with eyes open,” Young said.