Tuesday, 31 January 2017 14:25

20 Years Later: 20 Monroe Live — Grand Rapids’ new venue comes to life after two decades of planning

Written by  Troy Reimink
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20 Monroe Live, Live Nation’s House of Blues Entertainment venue in downtown Grand Rapids, opens Feb. 1, 2017 20 Monroe Live, Live Nation’s House of Blues Entertainment venue in downtown Grand Rapids, opens Feb. 1, 2017

Greg Gilmore began passing a kidney stone right as his dream was about to come true.

The Grand Rapids businessman who owns the B.O.B. and the Gilmore Collection restaurant group was on his way to Detroit three years ago for a meeting with Live Nation, the giant national concert promotion company, about a possible partnership on the music venue he’d long hoped to build downtown. Shortly before he arrived, something unpleasant started happening.

“I actually sat at the desk, bent over in horrible pain, and pointed at the papers and said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Gilmore told Revue in January, as construction on 20 Monroe Live neared completion.

Most people probably would have turned around or at least postponed the meeting to seek medical attention. But Gilmore had spent nearly two decades trying to realize his vision of a marquee music venue in the heart of Grand Rapids, and a mere kidney stone wasn’t going to derail him.

In 1996, Gilmore opened the B.O.B. — a multi-level restaurant and entertainment complex whose name stands for “big old building” — across Fulton Street from the then-brand-new Van Andel Arena. Immediately, he saw more potential in an area that (at the time) was of little interest to developers or out-of-town visitors.

“Shortly after we opened here, I tried to reconfigure the building to see if we could make a larger space for entertainment, and it wasn’t feasible architecturally,” Gilmore said. “I started to conceptualize what we could do next door. It was a 20-year thought process.”

He began the lengthy, complicated process of acquiring an adjacent city-owned parking lot and conceiving a workable plan for the expansion. The oft-delayed project, once nicknamed “Bobville,” has evolved since Gilmore first presented it publicly in 2008. The finished structure includes Venue Tower, a $22 million, 14-story Orion Construction venture with 88 apartments.

One piece of the puzzle has remained constant through the years — it would include a state-of-the-art, medium-sized performance venue in a House of Blues-style format that would fill a long-vacant space in Grand Rapids’ cultural portfolio: A venue that would be a natural tour stop between rooms such as The Fillmore Detroit and the wide circuit of Chicago concert halls.

The $16 million 20 Monroe Live will have a capacity of 2,580, adjustable for smaller shows. Grand Rapids has lacked a venue that bridges the gap between clubs like The Intersection (about 1,800 capacity) and the Orbit Room (1,700) and arenas like the DeltaPlex (6,200) and Van Andel (11,000).

“A lot of the music I’ve wanted to listen to, I had to leave town,” Gilmore said. “We’ll have a mid-sized venue between DeVos Hall and the arena that can bring in some of the bigger names. One of our goals was: We don’t have to go to Kalamazoo to the State Theatre. We don’t have to go to Lansing.”

Live Nation’s House of Blues Entertainment will operate 20 Monroe Live with the goal of attracting talent that would otherwise typically skip Grand Rapids between Detroit and Chicago tour stops. Heading up that effort is Josh Newman, a promoter and talent buyer with Live Nation in Detroit, who said a venue the size of 20 Monroe Live opens up a lot of possibilities for Grand Rapids’ concert market.

“The artists and the agents and the managers know there’s an audience in West Michigan,” Newman said. “It’s just a matter of there being a room for those acts. If you look at the initial acts that we put on sale, probably 75 percent of them don’t come to Grand Rapids unless that room is there.”

That lineup includes artists spanning a variety of genres — Trombone Shorty, Umphrey’s McGee, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Shinedown, Young the Giant, Dropkick Murphys, The Head and the Heart, Jeezy, Peter Frampton, The Flaming Lips and Primus.

Newman expects 20 Monroe Live to host up to 150 shows per year. Grand Rapids, he said, has grown steadily into a concert market capable of sustaining a major venue of this size, confirmed by strong early ticket sales.

“This is not something that happened overnight,” Newman said. “It’s not that all of a sudden Grand Rapids became Beer City and now bands want to play here. It’s because of all the work that’s been put in by everybody to make it a viable market. It used to be that Grand Rapids was competing with Lexington, Ky. and Fort Wayne, Ind. to get shows. Now Grand Rapids is solidly competing with major markets like Cincinnati and Cleveland and Indianapolis.

“I don’t have to beg people to come to Grand Rapids anymore.”

 

For more info and to buy tickets, visit 20monroelive.com.

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