|By Jan Falstad, Billings Gazette,
Mont.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 7, 2006 - The historic Northern Hotel, which has graced the downtown Billings landscape for a century, will close Friday, and management of the property will fall to a bankruptcy trustee.
The financially troubled hotel has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy aimed at reorganizing the business since spring. However, plans to sell the hotel fell through last week and the bankruptcy will be converted to a Chapter 7 or liquidation status on Friday.
Owners Robert and Susan Van Riper have been discussing selling the hotel at the corner of North Broadway and First Avenue North since before they filed for bankruptcy, according to their attorney James "Andy" Patten of Billings.
One buyer out of South Dakota that owns the Kelly Inn in Billings and some other properties looked seriously at the Northern, then backed out, he said.
"They came in and brought in contractors and engineers to see if they could completely refigure the hotel rooms and remodel," Patten said. "But based on the way the Northern is actually built, they couldn't do what they wanted to."
Once the papers are signed to convert to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the hotel will be managed by Joe Womack, who will be appointed the standing trustee, Patten said.
"There are some guests there tonight," he said. "When the guests check out, they will turn out the lights," Patten said.
Will the hotel stay closed or reopen?
"He'll (Womack will) have to decide if he wants to do that or abandon it. Or the lienholders could come forward," he said.
The Van Ripers purchased the Northern in 2002, with financing by investors from Polson in northwestern Montana in Cornerstone Financial. The investors or lienholders could decide to sell the property in 120 days or by Christmas in a trustee's sale, Patten said.
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