Sean Lynch is planning to have a new entertainment venue in the downtown Billings Bus Depot open by late November.
“I’ve got bands booked in there for December, so I hope it’s done by then,” he said.
Lynch, whose 11:11 Presents has been producing live concerts in Billings for more than a decade, will be leasing the depot building, at 2502 First Ave. N., from Mike Mathew, who bought the building in June.
Lynch said the new venue will be called the Pub Station and it will be “entertainment-driven.”
“We are a venue with a bar,” he said, “not a bar with live music.” You can check out the Pub Station Facebook page for updates.
The new business will have a beer and wine license and Lynch plans to have at least 32 beers on tap, including two “handles” from every Billings brewery that is interested.
He also hopes to be open six days a week and to have live music four nights a week, with a capacity of about 500 people. The Pub Station will have about 5,800 square feet — by comparison, about three times larger than the Railyard Ale House.
He plans to offer virtually any kind of music he thinks people are interested in. He has already purchased $30,000 worth of sound equipment and will make whatever changes are needed to make the building acoustically pleasing.
“I want it to be the best production in the state,” he said.
The front doors of the depot face the corner of First Avenue North and North 25th Street. A 20-by-18-foot stage will be built along the back wall, facing the main entrance. The bus bay to the rear of the stage will be left open so touring bands can pull their vehicles inside and unload right onto the stage.
Another two-lane bay that sits on the alley will be leased for daytime parking and used for VIP parking at special shows. A big open space just west of the depot, now used for idling buses, could be used for a patio, space for a food truck and possibly outdoor shows in the future.
Lynch and Mathew started talking about this project early this year. Mathew and his wife, Kay Foster, who are partners in the Babcock Theatre with Don and Kim Olsen, also own the old Montana Power Co. building on North Broadway.
The Montana Brewing Co. had long leased the ground floor of the building and asked to buy the space from Mathew and Foster late last year. After the deal went through, Mathew said, his attorney told him there would “a sizable tax consequence” as a result of the sale.
He was advised to look for a “1031 exchange,” so named because of Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows an investor to defer capital gains taxes by reinvesting the proceeds of one property sale into a new piece of property.
Shortly after that, Mathew ran into Lynch, and Lynch asked him if he’d like to invest in a new entertainment venue. Lynch had produced hundreds of shows at the Babcock, the Alberta Bair Theater, the Shrine Auditorium, the MetraPark arena, the Railyard and Manny’s, among other venues, and he was ready to go into producing shows for himself.
Mathew had known Lynch since 2001, when he was working to develop the Montana Power building just as Lynch was working next door to open the 11 Café.
They talked about a few other properties before Lynch mentioned the bus depot. Jefferson Line is currently running buses out of the depot, but it was still owned by Greyhound Bus Lines, which sold it to Mathew for just over $400,000.
Everything came together fairly quickly. Lynch managed to find a beer-and-wine license, with no gaming attached, for $170,000 and the paperwork closed on that just as Mathew completed his purchase of the depot. Lynch also obtained bank financing and a loan from the Small Business Administration.
Mathew said he plans to spend another $100,000 or so on a new roof, a sprinkler system and other things — “mandated stuff” — while Lynch will be responsible for the interior remodeling.
Lynch said it helps that Greyhound extensively remodeled the depot about 10 years ago, including the restoration of the building’s Art Deco façade.
Kevin Pursey, the marketing director for Jefferson Lines, told the Billings Gazette last month that his company is looking for a site for a new terminal and expects to be out of the downtown depot by mid-September.
Work will begin while Jefferson Lines is still in the building. One easy change will be converting the “BUS” sign.
“All we need to do is build a ‘P’ and move the ‘B,’” Mathew said.