Distinctive downtown project moves forward

August 18, 2009
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One of the most unique and versatile commercial developments that has been planned for downtown Grand Rapids in years is moving along nicely.

The 20 Monroe Building Co. LP agreed to buy a city-owned parking lot at the end of June for $1.9 million and plans to build a five-story addition to downtown’s largest entertainment center: The Big Old Building, better known as The BOB, at 20 Monroe Ave. NW.

The lot is adjacent to The BOB, a five-story warehouse renovated in 1996 and home to night spots, restaurants and a comedy club. The lot has access to Monroe and Ottawa avenues and is situated across Fulton Street from Van Andel Arena.

The limited partnership is headed by Gilmore Collection CEO Gregory Gilmore. The Gilmore Collection owns The BOB and many other restaurants in the metro area. Gilmore nicknamed the addition “Bobville” and described it as a festival marketplace that could be used for a lot of things and changed on a daily basis. He said the building would be able to host concerts, auto shows, plays — even a farmers market, and also would have space for business start-ups.

“The goal is that it would be very food-centered and kiosk-oriented,” said Gilmore, who added that the building’s design gives the structure enough room for 90 kiosks. “We’d have an incubator business for someone who’d want to get into the food business.”

The lot gives 20 Monroe about 24,000 square feet for the building’s footprint and the design includes a ground-floor open courtyard that can be arranged to fit the needs of an event. Thirty kiosks, mostly dedicated to food and beverages, are planned for the ground floor, while up to 60 retail and food kiosks are laid out on the second level, where the business incubators will be located. The second-floor kiosks will change with the seasons. A small jazz club has also been targeted for the second level.

“It will have the feel of a European piazza with trees, street vendors, street musicians, water features, fire pits. It will have state-of-the-art sound and video technologies,” said Gilmore.

The third and fourth floors will feature up to 40 suites that can be leased long-term for concerts and other forms of entertainment or for private parties. The mechanical systems will be on the fifth floor. The addition will be connected to The BOB at the second floor, and a level below ground will have space for events, a recording studio, storage and restrooms. The entire structure will be covered with a retractable roof.

“It’s expensive and getting smaller every day,” joked Gilmore about the retractable part of the roof.

In addition to signing a purchase contract with the city, 20 Monroe agreed to a development agreement with the city that outlines some of the project’s requirements: The partners have to invest a minimum of $5 million into the development, not including the lot’s purchase price; the final design must offer at least 20,000 square feet of commercial and residential space; 20 Monroe must file for building permits by Feb. 1, 2011, and start construction by Oct. 1, 2011; if the building permit date is missed, the city can buy back the lot at a price less than 20 Monroe paid for it; construction must be completed by Oct. 1, 2012; and, before Bobville opens, the partners must submit plans for security, crowd management and noise management to the city’s Planning Director Suzanne Schulz and Chief of Police Kevin Belk.

“The project represents a significant investment by the private sector at an important, highly visible location in the city. It supports prior public and private investments by reinforcing downtown as a primary destination for arts and entertainment in the region,” said City Economic Development Director Kara Wood.

Gilmore said the partners have $500,000 into the project already and will finance the rest through Byron Bank. About $3 million of the total $5 million investment will go into the construction of the building. The remainder will pay for furniture, equipment and soft costs such as engineering work. The partners will ask the state for brownfield tax credits and the Downtown Development Authority for development support.

The project is expected to create from 100 to 200 jobs with an estimated annual payroll of $2 million. When completed, Bobville will accommodate a crowd of 2,000 for an event.

“It fills a niche between Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place,” said Gilmore.

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