What to do with 5 Huge Vacant Billings Buildings?
The housing inventory around Billings is tight and many homebuyers are having a difficult time finding a house to buy. However, retail and commercial inventory seems like a different story. We're not commercial leasing experts, but even a casual observer will notice plenty of big, empty buildings available around the Magic City.
I don't mean vacant spaces in mini-malls (though there are plenty of them too). I'm talking really big buildings, to the tune of tens of thousands of square feet. I suppose it's difficult to find tenants for these somewhat specialized buildings. It's not like your average, mom-n-pop shop can afford a massive building, nor would they need the incredible amount of space.
Let's pretend money is no object and business-plans-be-damned. Here are some awesome (and completely outrageous) things we would do with five of Billings largest empty buildings.
Big Bear becomes: Montana's Biggest Indoor Casino Mall
Think about it.... put like 50 different casinos in one giant building. Make a cool, fake, sky-thing (like you'll find in Vegas) and put realistic fake sidewalks and "streets" inside. Add a food court. Guests could spend all day wandering from casino-to-casino and never have to step outside! Great for wintertime in Montana. This mega-casino would also relocate casinos from nearly every street in Billings, jamming all the fun into one humongous, convenient location.
Ziggy's becomes: Montana's first Top Golf
This seems like a natural fit with the Par 3 mini-course right across the street. You and your pals could play Top Golf for a few hours, then hop across the road and play some actual golf. The former lumber yard/hardware store is massive and the property occupies nearly an entire city block.
Billings Nissan building becomes: Grub and Pub Speedway (go-kart track)
Billings "auto row" continues to creep west, leaving the former car dealership location a prime spot for one of my better ideas... turning this spot into an awesome brewpub and go-kart track! It's already got the service bay and the huge parking lot has plenty of room for the track.
After a few rounds of racin' action, you could grab a table on what would surely be the outdoor patio on this cement slab, bordering the duck pond next door.
Historic Billings Hardware building becomes: The Montana Fun Emporium
This vacant, three-story, beast of a building seems to crumble a little more every time I walk by. It's in a prime location, with the Northern Hotel across the street and an easy walk to many of Billings' most popular downtown bars and restaurants. I can't believe it hasn't become something yet. A weathered, "coming soon" banner tacked on the outside of the building promises retail on the lower level with condos up top. That project seems stalled at the moment, and frankly a little boring.
I suggest turning the historic building into the biggest, most spectacular toy shop and game room in the region. It would feature everything from classic toys to the latest-and-greatest electronics. Have a bar and restaurant with vintage arcade games and pinball machines on one floor. Put a pool and darts hall somewhere in the building and a bowling alley in the basement. Make it a uniquely Montana version of Dave and Busters. Call it Steve and Jerry's or something.
Sears building becomes: Montana's Only Indoor Dog Park
The poor old Sears building has been empty for a while now and I'm kind of surprised it hasn't been torn down. Grand Ave can be a tough spot for many business ideas, but I think a giant indoor dog park would be a huge hit. Lay some artificial turf and build a little pond inside for those water-loving dogs. You'll finally have a warm place to walk your mutt when it's -25 below in January and when it's 102 degrees in August, you and your pooch can chill out in the A/C comfort of Billings only indoor dog park.
Feel free to steal any of these ideas and make them work. I'm getting tired of seeing all the big empty buildings around town.
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