On one of the busiest intersections in Yellowstone County sits the long-empty, former Burger King building. MDOT traffic surveys indicate around 20,000 vehicles drive past the I-90 ramps at the junction with Hwy 212 daily. That's over seven million vehicles per year. Surely, a great spot for a restaurant or other business, right? Why has the building been empty for nearly a decade? As a Laurel resident, I've often wondered the same thing.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Denny Rehberg doesn't own the property.

In fact, he never did. Every time locals would comment on the vacant property, Rehberg's name would come up. While the former Montana congressman is involved in the restaurant business, he was never an owner or had any connection to the shuttered BK. The restaurant and property was owned by the Ryan family of businesses.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

The building has been slowly falling apart as it has sat empty.

Empty buildings seem to succumb to the elements fairly quickly, and the old fast food restaurant building is looking rough. Some of the windows are boarded up, weeds are growing through sidewalk cracks, and vandals have shattered at least one piece of glass. Laurel residents took notice when the row of scraggly evergreens that formerly lined the drive-through were cut down earlier this spring. Peeking in the windows of the property reveals a gutted interior.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

The prime real estate was sold in 2014.

We caught up with Billings businessman Steve Zabawa, the current owner of the old BK property. He and his partners purchased the building in 2014, as well as the small lot directly behind it, with plans to expand what was then Laurel Rimrock Chevrolet. Zabawa explained that the auto buying experience was transitioning more to online sales and plans to expand the dealership footprint onto the Burger King lot were shelved.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Watch for new businesses coming to the lot.

Zabawa said long-term leases were secured four months ago and demolition on the decrepit building should begin by this fall. The pad will be scraped and a new 3,500 square-foot building will be constructed in its place.

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Local firm will take lead on the construction.

The building will feature two tenants, each with its own drive-through lane. Access will be available from S. 1st Ave. and SE 4th St. Local builder Dan Wells Construction is the general contractor. Zabawa was mum on who the tenants will be, although we can expect a press release in the near future. He alluded that both businesses are something that is currently not offered in Laurel.

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As our area community continues to grow, the blur between Billings and Laurel becomes even greater. The proposed new power plant in Laurel will draw construction workers and employees to the area and tourists will continue flocking to Red Lodge, Cooke City, Cody, and Yellowstone National Park for the foreseeable future. Whatever businesses occupy the busy intersection will surely do quite well.

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