ST. CLOUD -- Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Press Bar and Parlor in downtown St. Cloud.

The owner, 42-year-old Andrew Welsh, was indicted on federal charges of arson, use of fire to commit a federal felony, and wire fraud.  He's scheduled to go on trial on May 16th.

St. Cloud fire crews were called out to the corner of St. Germain Street and 5th Avenue South in the early morning hours of February 17th, 2020. Firefighters arrived to find the bar engulfed in flames. Crews battled the blaze for hours with ladder trucks and heavy equipment before the historic building was reduced to a pile of rubble.

Andrew Welsh - Stearns County Jail
Andrew Welsh - Stearns County Jail

Following the fire, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives was called in to investigate. They determined that Welsh was the last one to leave the bar before closing up and the fire originated on the top of his desk in the basement office. A specially trained dog indicated the presence of an accelerant on the desk. ATF Forensic Science Laboratory testing confirmed the findings.

Records show ATF experts systematically ruled out all other accidental causes including appliance failure and determined the fire was intentionally lit.

Search warrants were then served at a home in Sauk Rapids where Welsh had apparently been staying after his divorce. Authorities say they found nearly $2,000 in cash inside his SUV and a bottle of Ronsonol lighter fuel on the floor of his truck.

According to the indictment, Welsh burned down the bar to collect approximately $1.4-million in insurance money on what had become a failing business. According to multiple employees, business at the Press Bar had been declining, specifically to the point where Welsh was reducing staff and had stopped selling tap beer.

Welsh remains free on bail pending the outcome of his trial.

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Meanwhile, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis says the After Midnight Group, which owns Cowboys Jack's, has purchased the property. He says they will either own the half that is closest to their building and sell the other half to the city of St. Cloud or be forced to pay the cleanup costs assessed on the property if they choose to keep the entire parcel.

Kleis says you should expect to see something taking place on the site this year.

Press Bar Fire

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