BURLEY — Brek Pilling has a vision for his restaurant. He also a vision for Burley.

Three years, one million dollars and a healthy dose of sweat equity later, the new Kassiani Restaurant, Bakery and Events, of which Pilling is the co-owner, is finished with construction. Now he wants to use it to infuse culture and vitality downtown.

“We believe in downtown,” said Pilling.

A vision of returning Burley’s business core to a thriving gathering place kept Pilling focused as he tore the building down to its bones and rebuilt it into a work of art – all while trying to keep the original essence of the architecture.

Plans are to fill the upscale restaurant, which is set to open in December, with exceptional food and live music.

“The doctor told me I had too much stress, and I needed to relax,” Pilling said, smiling at the dichotomy between relaxation and innovation.

He took on the project with partner Brian Tibbets.

Relaxation for him comes with eating at great restaurants and enjoying jazz clubs, both of which are in short supply in Mini-Cassia.

Kodiak’s clients often visit Burley who are accustomed to high-end eateries and clubs.

“We hear complaints from them that there is nowhere to eat here,” Pilling said.

If things go according to plan, Pilling and Tibbets will change that perception, and it will signal the beginning of a downtown Burley renaissance.

Why downtown?

Some questioned why Pilling and Tibbets spent so much money on renovating a building for Kassiani, whey they could have built a brand new building elsewhere that included better parking. But as a business owner, Pilling said, downtown matters.

“Our downtown is dying,” he said. “Businesses are leaving. And I wanted to come where there’s some history.”

Pilling hopes that he can help lead a downtown business revival for the city of about 10,500 residents.

“We restore what they built and add a flare of the modern,” Pilling said.

He and Tibbets also purchased two buildings across the street from the restaurant at 1222 and 1226 Overland Ave., which had deteriorated beyond repair.

He hopes to donate them to the city to be torn down and used for public parking for the downtown patrons. If the city does not agree, Pilling will tear them down and use the space for private parking for the restaurant.

Burley Administrator Mark Mitton said the city is interested in the proposition.

“There would be some expense,” Mitton said. “There would be two buildings to take down with demolition costs.”

There might also be some structural issues with the adjacent building, which may have to be shored up, he said, along with the costs of developing a parking lot.

“But we are not opposed at all to working through those numbers,” Mitton said.

Burley Economic Development Director Doug Manning said the new restaurant and demolition of the two buildings will go a long way in sprucing up the downtown block, which has become an eyesore with several vacant buildings.

When potential business owners visit the city to decide if they want to locate here, city officials “find creative ways of not taking them through downtown,” Mitton said.

Manning said absentee ownership of many of the downtown buildings led to the area’s current state.

“Downtown has been badly neglected,” he said. “But I think that is really starting to shift now.”

A city’s downtown, Manning emphasized, plays a vital role in economic development.

“It’s the heart of the city,” he said. “I’d like to see downtown become a festive, homey gathering place.”

The city developing a public parking lot would benefit all the downtown business owners. Lack of parking has been one of the major obstacles for downtown businesses to overcome, Manning said.

Another obstacle for the city is the cost of bringing an old building up to code, which is often more expensive than building anew.

Still, Burley is one of several Magic Valley cities turning attention to downtown. Twin Falls has a brand new Main Avenue, and Mini-Cassia neighbor Rupert unanimously approved a $2.7 million renovation of Rupert Square on Nov. 14, after six years of planning.

New life for an old space

Pilling’s 8,000-square-foot building previously belonged to Raymond Hohosh, who operated Magic Valley Oil Company and leased a portion of the building as a strip mall.

When Pilling bought it, the structure required more than a simple facelift.

The plaster on the brick was taken off with a chisel and hammer. Each mortar line in the building was ground down and the original brick treated.

It was important to keep the beauty of the original 1930s structure, Pilling said.

They also had to shore up 19 inches of sag in the ceiling.

“I actually got my contractor’s license so I could work on it myself,” Pilling said. “When you take an old building and bring it up to modern code it’s difficult and expensive.”

The restoration alone has cost about $750,000.

“It was a mess, but I love taking something old and making it beautiful again,” Pilling said.

That’s hardly new territory for Pilling, a third generation business owner, and Kodiak America. The company featured dirt floors when it was founded by Bruce Neibaur. Now it manufactures snow blowers used by government agencies, airports and ski resorts around the world.

For Kassiani, Pilling tried to purchase most things locally, including tables and booths.

A groin-vault ceiling was installed in the main dining room. One end of the room has a stage against a bay of windows facing Overland Avenue, where musicians will play on the weekends. On the stage are two Steinway grand pianos from 1924 and 1915.

Paige Darrington, friend of the Pillings, designed the interior finishings for the business.

“My job was to make it beautiful in here,” Darrington said.

An accomplished pianist, she coaxes a melody from one of the pianos. The sounds bounce gracefully off the exposed brick and ceiling vaults.

“The acoustics in here are great,” she said.

The restaurant’s name, Kassiani, pays homage to a Byzantine woman who is credited with composing some of the earliest hymns that could be interpreted by modern musicians.

Chandeliers dangle from the ceiling in the dining room, which will feature gourmet entrees.

Chef Chris Clark has worked with Pilling on the project for two years, developing the menu and perfecting his dishes and artisan breads.

Specialty oils and vinegars will be sold on the south side of the building. The space will also feature a casual eating area, offering dishes like soups, salads and brick-oven pizza calzones along with sandwiches.

Darrington said Pilling distressed all the beams in the restaurant by hand with a chisel, built the front door and framed the vault ceilings.

“This has been more than a business venture. It’s great to see it come alive again,” Pilling said. “We want it to be profitable, but that is a secondary concern.”

They hope that locals and visitors alike will make the restaurant a favorite. But most of all, they want to spark interest in Burley’s downtown and make it a place where people want to congregate once again.

“I can’t tell you how blessed we feel to be able to contribute to the community and add to downtown in a way that will benefit everyone,” Pilling said.