Red Ball Jet Is Taking Off

February 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — City boards have given only green lights so far to the Red Ball Jet Café, the latest restaurant being developed by the Gilmore Collection.

At the same time, a northeast-side business association and a neighborhood group have also expressed their support for the project.

The Gilmore Collection, doing business as the Creston Building Co. for the project, plans to turn the former Creston Library at 1431 Plainfield Ave. NE into a combination coffee house, bakery and casual dining restaurant that will offer wood-fired pizza, salmon, sandwiches and salads inside the building and in a garden setting on the roof.

"Our goal is to renovate this building and contribute to the business district," said Greg Gilmore, president of the Gilmore Collection.

The single-story brick building sits on a triangular-shaped city block that is bordered by Coit, Quimby and Plainfield. The proposed dining area, almost 900 square feet, will seat 40. The rooftop will also seat 40 across its 735 square feet.

The Gilmores are investing more than $300,000 into the project, which is largely an interior renovation as they don't plan to alter the exterior façade or windows. Nor are structural changes expected to be made to the building's roof for the seasonal outdoor dining area.

"This building used to have a second story, so (the roof) is pretty strong," said Gilmore.

Design Plus of Grand Rapids drew up the interior renovation plans, and Gilmore said he expects that Visser Brothers Inc., a local general contractor, will direct the work.

The Planning Commission was the most recent city board to hear details of the project, and the panel approved a Class C liquor license for the restaurant. Gilmore bought the license from Pizza Hut for $80,000, and planning commissioners had to determine whether the immediate area could have another license. Three bars and two liquor stores already operate nearby.

"First and foremost, I want to tell you that this is a restaurant," said Gilmore, who added that alcoholic beverage sales only account for about 20 percent of his revenue with the rest coming from food sales.

"We don't have room for a bar. We don't plan on having entertainment. But we may have a guitarist playing in a corner on an afternoon," he said.

The Liquor Control Commission has to approve the transfer, as do city commissioners.

And Gilmore still has to visit the Historic Preservation Commission to get approval for the rooftop dining area, and the Zoning Board of Appeals for a parking variance because of the additional seating on the roof, which wasn't part of the original design.

But the Historic Preservation Commission has already approved the renovation work, which meets the city's historic standards, and zoning has given its OK to a parking variance for the building.

In December, the City Commission gave the Gilmore Collection a second extension to get the project done by July 1. The city sold the former library branch to the Gilmore Collection for $95,000 in 2003.

Gilmore said when the Red Ball Jet Café opens it will become the 17th restaurant in the Gilmore Collection, which features The BOB at 20 Monroe Ave. NW. Hours for the new restaurant will be from 7 a.m. to midnight. The seasonal rooftop dining area will close at 11 p.m. due to outdoor noise restrictions.

"We're trying to attract new and vital businesses. We think Greg Gilmore can bring a vital business here," said Duane Culver, president of the Creston Business Association.

Culver added that his association feels the café will draw more businesses and customers to the district. He gave planning commissioners letters from six business owners in the immediate area who supported the café.

The Creston Neighborhood Association also feels the Red Ball Jet Café should take off.

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