Gilmore’s entrepreneur effort was one of downtown’s biggest risks, most successful efforts

September 16, 2016
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Greg (and John) Gilmore’s announcement of Live Nation’s House of Blues agreement to partner in the $16 million 20 Monroe Live entertainment venue is significant development news, but one also must pause to pay tribute to one of Grand Rapids’ most tenacious businessmen.

Gilmore’s risk of building The Big Old Building, a multi-level, multi-entertainment venue in a dilapidated old warehouse 20 years ago, preceded what everyone else now sees: an increasingly vibrant downtown entertainment district built on the backs of risk-takers, enormous odds and very little interest from commercial lenders. Gilmore’s big building and even bigger vision survived the Great Recession, survived liability suits after accidental deaths related to alcohol consumption and suffered related penalties by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, which pulled the venue’s liquor license just as summer vacations and planned weddings were at the height of the summer season July 4-13, 2014.

Tenacious? Gilmore also saw his plan for an outdoor international market snatched, as Grand Action’s last big idea became the Downtown Market; his “small movie theater idea” stalled by the eventual deal reached by the Downtown Development Authority and Loeks Theatres in April of this year for a nine-screen theater in a new building. The Business Journal reported on the possible “morph” of The B.O.B to a “House of Blues concept” in 2008.

Gilmore re-invented the venue several times, adding one of the city’s first breweries, the nightclub Eve and a locally produced “live wall,” providing produce for its restaurants and a seasonal venue. The complex has hosted hundreds of ArtPrize competitors since Year 1, and its parking lot provided onlookers a close-up, outdoor view, still most memorable for the iron ship replica of a Great Lakes war-time boat, which looked like a pig.

Indeed, Gilmore’s metamorphosis into the Gilmore Collection of 20 restaurants throughout the region can be cited as the example of entrepreneurial effort and attitude. Better, the enterprise has created a “multiplier effect,” signaling other retailers. The Business Journal also is reporting on the opening of Moosejaw Mountaineering in the Downtown Market neighborhood. Nick Rau, the retail director of the Madison Heights-based company, told the Business Journal, “When we came back to Grand Rapids recently to see how things were going, with the development of the community, it took one visit to show us it became an absolute certainty that Grand Rapids was a market we needed to be in, and if anything, (we) drug our feet too long and needed to be here a while ago.”

Gilmore set one of the first examples and one of the biggest risks in downtown history.

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