In November, a Stearns County judge ordered Andy Welsh to sell his St. Cloud business, the storied downtown Press Bar and Parlor, and split the money with his wife as part of their divorce agreement.
Leading up to his arrest, the 40-year-old bar owner, who also owns a farm and landscaping business, faced tens of thousands of dollars in debt, a turmoil exacerbated by lawsuits from contractors accusing Welsh of failing to pay for services, according to civil court records.
As of last September, the bar counted $132.67 in its checking account, the court filings show.
The Press Bar is estimated at $550,000 in value, according to a breakdown of assets in the couple’s divorce records. Welsh agreed to list the bar for sale by Jan. 20, less than a month before it burned down.
Welsh is being in held in Stearns County jail on suspicion of arson. He is expected to be charged and appear in court on Tuesday.
“Andy is absolutely innocent. He has been arrested for a crime that he did not commit, and if charged by the government, he will be acquitted at trial,” his attorney Ryan Garry said. “He is a good man and a loving father, has no criminal history, and should have never been arrested.”
Welsh’s wife and her lawyer declined an interview request.
Last year, a construction company based in Becker, Minn., sued Welsh and his wife for breach of contract, alleging they failed to pay for a concrete project completed in 2018 and placing a lien on a property owned by the family.
The couple still owes Elite Concrete Construction $53,721 plus interest, according to the lawsuit. A pretrial court date on the lawsuit is scheduled for later this month.
In 2018, Welsh agreed to pay $3,283 to settle a lawsuit with Gilman Coop Creamery, a feed and farm supplier.
Welsh paid another $6,994 to Cold Spring Co-op later that year, per a court order.
In January 2019, a judge ordered Welsh to pay $1,500 to a DJ who said Welsh owed him for work at the Press Bar.
Another contractor sued him for $14,000, alleging Welsh owed him for light and sound equipment. A judge dismissed that claim, citing lack of evidence.
In his divorce filings last year, Welsh listed more than $100,000 in debt, some jointly with his wife.
The Press Bar, located at 502 W. St. Germain St. in downtown St. Cloud, opened in 1942 and has since been a staple of the city’s bar scene. Welsh has held a liquor license with the state of Minnesota for the bar since 2016.
Fire crews responded to a fire at the bar just before 3 a.m. on Feb. 17, and it took 40 firefighters to extinguish the blaze. The building has since been torn down.
At the time, the bar released a public statement praising firefighters for their quick work. “We are thankful that no one was in the building at the time of the fire,” read the statement. “We’ve gained many great employees, friends and memories there over the years. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers.”
A few days later, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives called in a national response team to assist in reconstructing the scene of the fire, identifying the location of origin, conducting interviews and sorting through rubble. These teams consist of forensic chemists, explosives enforcement officers and other veteran special agents from across the country with experience in “post-blast” and fire-origin expertise, along with a dog trained to sniff out accelerants like gasoline in the rubble.
It’s rare for the ATF to call in these types of teams; the last time one came to Minnesota was in 2004.
On Saturday, the ATF announced that its investigators, along with local fire and police, “collectively made the determination today, Feb. 29, classifying the fire that destroyed the Press Bar and Parlor as incendiary, an intentionally set fire.”