ST. CLOUD, Minn. (FOX 9) - The owner of the Press Bar and Parlour in St. Cloud was charged Tuesday with intentionally setting the fire that destroyed the bar last month.
The Stearns County Attorney’s Office charged Andrew Welsh, 40, of St. Joseph with two counts of first-degree arson for the fire that started in the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 17. Authorities arrested him over the weekend after an investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined the fire had been intentionally set.
The fire was first reported at 2:40 a.m. It started in the basement of the bar, but because of the way the building was constructed over 100 years ago, it quickly jumped into the walls and up through the attic.
Firefighters had to demolish the building to get to the fire. It took over 12 hours for crews to extinguish it completely.
According to the charges, investigators determined Welsh “had the means, possessed the motive and had the sole opportunity to commit arson.”
Investigators believe Welsh started the fire using an accelerant on the desk in his office in the basement of the Press Bar. City surveillance cameras showed Welsh entering the bar on Sunday, Feb. 16 around 9:30 a.m. He was the last one to leave around 2:11 a.m.
Surveillance cameras showed the only other employee at the bar that night left around 2:08 a.m. They told police Welsh had stayed in the office much later than normal for a Saturday night. They also said that just before closing the bar, Welsh offered to take the washrags downstairs along with the evening’s bag of cash, presumably to prevent the employee from going into the basement.
Andrew Welsh, 40, of St. Joseph is charged with arson in the fire that destroyed the Press Bar in St. Cloud, Minnesota last month. (Stearns County A / FOX 9)
The charges say the investigators learned that Welsh and his now ex-wife bought the Press Bar in 2016 for approximately $850,000 through a contract for deed. Welsh said he still owed approximately $550,000 on the contract deed at the time of the fire.
According to multiple employees, the Press Bar’s business had been declining to the point where Welsh had been reducing staff and stopped selling tap beer.
Welsh and his wife divorced last fall. They were required to list the Press Bar for sale by Jan. 20, but Welsh did not.
Welsh also had an insurance policy on the Press Bar for $1.3 million for building repairs and $300,000 for equipment repairs. The insurance policy did not include the potential value of selling the land the Press Bar was on itself.
Welsh made his first court appearance on Tuesday. A judge set his bail at $1.2 million without conditions or $200,000 with conditions.