Economic Development and Real Estate

Horseshoe Bar building re-emerges as 'gateway to downtown'

August 21, 2013
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Historic Horseshoe Bar building re-emerges as 'gateway to downtown'
The historic Horseshoe Bar building in downtown Grand Rapids was built in 1891.

Patricia Warner is hoping the old horseshoe still has some luck left in it.

Warner intends to renovate the old Horseshoe Bar building in downtown Grand Rapids, a three-story structure that was built in 1891 — and one that would likely have some very interesting tales to tell if it could speak.

Warner plans to renovate the 9,000-square-foot building, at 333 Grandville Ave. SW, into office space for the top two floors and find a retail shop or a restaurant to take the ground floor.

She also intends to restore the building’s brick façade and its domed turret and do so by following federal historic standards.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority gave her a building-reuse grant worth $30,472 to assist with that work.

“This is a fascinating building,” said Brian Harris, chairman of the DDA. “And, to me, it’s a gateway to downtown.”

The Grand Rapids Ballet sold the building to LVD Stolpe, which is Warner’s firm, last month for an undisclosed price.

The ballet company intended to house its students on the top two floors and lease the ground floor to a coffee shop. But that plan never developed.

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Rich in history

The building opened as a boarding house and grocery story that primarily served railroad passengers who traveled to and from the city.

About 50 years later, the building was sold and became the Lamar Hotel after World War II, and legend has it, one of the structure’s levels served as a brothel.

“We need not know what went on in the second floor,” said a smiling Harris.

Horseshoe Bar era

Then Frank Lamar opened the once popular Horseshoe Bar in the building, where many of the nation’s top jazz and blues artists played.

“The best that I can tell is the Horseshoe Bar closed in the late 1970s. I don’t think there has been an occupant of the building since then,” said Bob Kirchgessner, Jr. in 2002.

Previous plans

Back then Kirchgessner owned The West Michigan Group, a residential and investment real estate brokerage firm, and had converted the building’s second and third floors into loft office space and planned to sign up a retailer, an art gallery, a coffee shop or a restaurant for the ground floor.

Kirchgessner bought the building in 1998. The group that sold him the structure planned to turn it into a multi-level jazz and blues club with a restaurant about the time Van Andel Arena opened in 1996, but that plan never developed.

When Kirchgessner bought it, the building was just a shell. So he shored it up with a new steel skeleton and footings, upgraded the utilities, installed an elevator, bathrooms and a fire escape and built an addition that serves as a mechanical room.

The interior featured exposed brick walls and wooden floors and ceilings that rose to 12 feet on the top two floors. There are bay windows, and there are views in four directions on the third floor and in three directions on the other two floors.

“The area is really starting to come around. The Grand Rapids Ballet is across the street and ITP is going in there. I think its time has come,” Kirchgessner told the Business Journal in April 2002.

But Kirchgessner ended up selling the building to the ballet in August 2005 for $1.15 million. 

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