Havre Daily News
What a difference a year makes.
If everything goes as planned, the former Heritage Center will be home to a restaurant, a brew pub and an art gallery by November. Todd Hanson and Erica McKeon-Hanson purchased the building from the city of Havre last month and also plan to add professional office suites and a banquet facility to the former U.S. post office and courthouse.
Last fall, the fate of the historic structure was still unknown. The city put the building out for bid four times before finding a buyer.
The couple are excited about the possibilities the building offers and said they have received positive feedback from the community regarding their efforts.
"I'm thrilled about the project," McKeon-Hanson said. "We want this building to be a place for all community members to enjoy."
"Our emphasis is to give back to the community," Hanson agreed. "We have enjoyed overwhelming community support. We have been approached by people who are excited that the structure will be maintained and will be accessible." Havre Area Chamber of Commerce president Denise Ladenburg said the business community in Havre is excited about the project and thinks it could act as a catalyst for an urban renewal effort downtown.
"I see it as a good thing," she said. "It will keep our downtown alive. I wish them luck in their endeavor."
Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss said the project will have a significant impact on downtown.
"If their plans come to fruition, it's going to take a big piece of downtown Havre and really revitalize that and make it a real commercial asset," Tuss said. "If their plans go forward, it's a wonderful reuse of a phenomenal historic structure. It's a great connection to Havre's past. If this takes place, it's a win-win situation."
The public will get its first taste of what the building will offer June 17-19, when the Plains Indian Gallery of Western Art and Artifacts will host its first showing, curator Larry Singer said.
The show will be free to both artists and attendees. Singer wants artists to get comfortable with showing their work in the building.
"I want the artists to get used to coming in here," he said. "I want them to feel at home."
The gallery will be located on the second floor of what is being renamed the Hanson Building, in honor of Hanson's parents.
The first floor will house a reception area, the restaurant and Irish brew pub. The restaurant will be named Barrister's in reference to the courtroom two floors above. The facility will showcase dark wood and rich colors to show off the historic atmosphere of the building.
Adjoining Barrister's will be the pub, named McKeown's, in honor of McKeon-Hanson's grandparents. McKeown is the old Irish spelling of the name. McKeon-Hanson said she visited Ireland in 2001 and wanted to bring some of the relaxed pub atmosphere to Havre.
"Their outlook on life is something that I'd like to bring to Havre," she said. "This will be a place where people can gather over coffee in the morning or come to unwind after a day at work. It will be relaxed and welcoming."
The historic post office boxes on the first floor will be left intact and incorporated into the setting, Hanson said.
"The integrity of those will be maintained," he said. "They will be left on display and integrated into the ambiance of the restaurant area."
A number of people have purchased their family's original boxes, and Hanson said more of them may be made available for purchase in the future.
The second floor will house the office suites as well as the gallery. Singer said he had been looking for a home for the gallery and the building seemed like a perfect fit. The art and artifacts will be on display during the same business hours as the restaurant, allowing patrons to view the displays before or after dinner.
The gallery will offer studio space for artists, and Singer said that at this point he is not planning on charging for the space. Instead, he is encouraging artists to host classes for people of all ages and levels of experience.
"There's been a lot of interest in the community. I want this to be open to everybody," Singer said. "The main purpose is to discover and develop new talent and help those people become complete artists. There are a lot of people out there that could have made it big, but it's tough."
The gallery will also exhibit Native American artifacts and collectibles, including clothing and beadwork. He has gotten permission from several families to display artifacts dating back six or seven generations, he added.
Anyone who wishes to display artifacts, or would like to show work at the gallery can contact Singer at email@example.com.
The Hansons are planning to refurbish the third-floor courtroom as a banquet facility. Hanson said the area will be restored to its original Art Deco glory, with the original woodwork and floors. He has been in contact with a Portland, Ore.-based company that will use the original plans to recreate the chandeliers and lighting fixtures.
"It's such an opulent space that we've decided to restore it its original grandeur," Hanson said.
The facility will include a stage that could be used for dinner theater, concerts or other events, he said.
The couple has been working with Bear Paw Development Corp. and local lenders to put together a financing package for the project.
The couple own two businesses, a customer-direct custom, antique and collectible firearms and accessories business called NorsMan Sporting Arms and Outfitters. They also operate a online brokering business that connects hunters with hunting trips, guides and other services around the world.
Hanson serves as a Havre school board member. McKeon-Hanson is finishing out the year as a freshman science teacher at Havre High School.
Hanson said he hopes to have contractors begin work on the building in June or July. The first priority is going to be the roof. The couple also plans to dismantle the loading dock at the rear of the building and build a kitchen facility in the area.
Hanson said he knows repairs will have to be made to the building's heating system, but he has hopes that the boiler will not need to be completely replaced. He has an estimate from a Great Falls firm for repairs, he said.
The couple are working closely with the state historic perseveration officer in Helena to ensure the building's integrity is maintained.
Hanson said he hopes the project will spark interest in other similar endeavors downtown.
"It's always been my experience that a single event can act as a catalyst for other entrepreneurs in the community who are considering purchasing a building," he said. "Our project could serve as a template. We may start to see, as a result, an urban renewal process in downtown Havre. That's a possibility we see."