ST. CLOUD -- Today we wrap up our countdown of the Top 10 local news stories of the year with our #1 story, the fire that destroyed the Press Bar and Parlor in downtown St. Cloud.

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. Firefighters arrived to find the Press Bar and Parlor 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 owner Andrew 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.

On December 11th, a federal grand jury handed up an indictment charging the 41-year-old Welsh with arson, use of a fire to commit a federal felony, and wire fraud.

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.

Meanwhile, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis says there are ongoing negotiations with the property owners, a potential buyer for the site, and the city. Kleis is hoping a deal can be struck in the coming weeks.

Welsh is scheduled to appear at a virtual motions hearing before a federal judge in March with a jury trial currently scheduled for April 12.

That concludes our look back at the Top 10 non-COVID news stories of 2020.

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