Gilmores Growing A Lot

April 11, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — When he spoke with the Business Journal not too long ago he was getting ready to sign a purchase option on a small city-owned surface parking lot that would allow him to expand the jewel of his family’s business, The BOB, at 20 Monroe Ave. NW.

The downtown entertainment complex, which features a handful of specialized eateries, a comedy club and an upscale nightspot, just may get a performance theater and a family-style restaurant added to its north end.

If the Gilmore Collection, doing business as 20 Monroe Building Co. for this deal, goes through with that addition, it would reflect the almost constant growth the company has exhibited since 1996 when the firm completed its $7 million conversion of a vacant 70,000-square-foot warehouse into downtown’s largest spot for food, drink, laughs and dancing.

The addition also would reflect the remodeling work the Gilmores did to The BOB four years ago, when the building’s surroundings and attitude were upgraded and the intimate and stylish Crush dance club debuted.

“It’s been three-plus years that I have been trying to tie this property up. I met with the city in 2001, so it’s been on our drawing board for three-plus years. But it’s been a goal of mine for a lot longer than that,” said Gregory Gilmore, CEO of the Gilmore Collection, who owns the business with his father, John, the firm’s chairman.

The property is an 11,360-square-foot, asphalt rectangle with an address of 26 Monroe Ave. NW that sits between The BOB and 50 Monroe Place.

According to the agreement with the city, 20 Monroe has three years to put up at least a 20,000-square-foot building on the site and invest a minimum of $3 million into the project. But the Gilmores aren’t rushing into anything.

“I will take the next year-and-a-half and study it from every angle I possibly can,” said Gilmore.

A theater operator is working with the Gilmores to devise the right platform for a live-performance venue that would seat up to 1,200 in a dinner-and-show setting, and also have a capacity of 1,500 for other events. Then architects will be called in to determine whether the space will suit the theater’s business plan.

“We’ve already done preliminary projections and done some due diligence, but I just wasn’t going to take it too far until I had secured the property. Otherwise, I’d just be spinning my wheels,” said Gilmore.

Spinning their wheels is something the Gilmores don’t do. Despite the stagnant economy that has hung over the state the past four years, the Gilmores have quietly, confidently and cautiously moved forward. In 2001, six restaurants made up the Gilmore Collection. This year, 11 businesses do.

Roughly two years ago they opened Bite in the Waters Building, the Flat River Grill in Lowell and the Blue Water Grill on the far northeast side of town. Roughly two weeks ago, they opened Lil’ Bite for the tenants in Bridgewater Place and will operate the banquet business in the city’s largest office structure, too.

“My father and I have been working together a long time now. He told me 25 years ago that if you don’t have three projects in the works, the chances are you’re going to end up doing nothing, and I’ve developed that philosophy,” said Gilmore.

“One reason being is one (project) might take forever to get off the ground and might get knocked down. For instance, in applying to purchase this (lot), I started in 2001,” he added. “So if that was the only thing I was working on …”

It’s no surprise that the theater isn’t the only thing the Gilmores are working on.

They recently sent their second nonrefundable check to Rockford Co. CEO John Wheeler for their down payment on Gibson’s Restaurant at 1033 Lake Drive SE. The Gilmores will lease the building to James Powell and he will continue to operate the restaurant.

Their third current effort is to fill the corner of Fulton and Carlton NE, the same spot where a graphics business burned to the ground a few years back.

“We did buy it and it did burn down,” said Gilmore of the building.

“Ironically, I was going to put a smokehouse in there, and I still am. We’re working on that project, as well, currently.”

Regardless of all the successes the Gilmores have had since they formed the business in 1962, the new theater just may lift them onto a new business plateau. They’re excited about the venue’s promise, as they know they’re in a market that likes its music, and they also know that many promoters can’t afford to book their performers into the 11,000-seat arena.

They also know that food lovers love films about food. So a showing of “Babette’s Feast” or “Chocolat” with a meal that mirrors the movie should draw well. They also know that there isn’t another nearby place that serves its customers food, drink and a live show in a casino-style setting.

“I think it’s not only going to fill a void downtown, but I think in the city. Because what we’re proposing is unique in every respect — everything from a food-film series to live music to corporate events, weddings, and even some performing arts of all different sorts in a very unique facility,” said Gilmore.

He pretty much refused to take any credit for the theater concept.

“It’s not brain surgery, it’s just filling a void,” said Gilmore.

After all, he had papers to sign.    

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