The B.O.B. is home to several events downtown. The Gilmore Collection is hoping that an expansion to the site will add even more activities to the venue's offerings. Photo by Michael Buck
After about a decade’s worth of planning, the first stage of the expansion of The Gilmore Collection’s The Big Old Building at 20 Monroe Ave. NW will get underway in a few months. And that stage will take only a few months to complete.
The first phase remodels and expands the ground floor on the Fulton Street side of the popular dining and entertainment complex. The work will replace Gilly’s, once a seafood restaurant, with an as yet unnamed space offering contemporary cuisine and featuring craft beer selections along with outdoor seating.
“Everything we did at The B.O.B. 16 years ago was ahead of its time, but in some respects we’ve fallen behind the times, so we’re going to modernize that particular space, basically update it, and the cuisine has changed already. It’s no longer a fish house,” said Greg Gilmore, managing partner of The Gilmore Collection, which opened The B.O.B in 1997.
Gilmore said the food focus will be on small plates with lots of appetizers and all kinds of new American cuisine, as well as some global cuisine. But he said the new offering is as much about the The B.O.B.’s craft beer as it is about its food. In fact, he said the space’s design is a bit more like a tavern than a restaurant — a communal space that he feels will encourage groups to gather.
“It’s not a dining destination, per se,” he said. “The other part of it is, it fronts the plaza, so we will have an entry onto the plaza from the new restaurant.”
B.O.B.’s Brewery began brewing shortly after the building opened and is still a popular operation today.
“With Grand Rapids being Beer City USA, we didn’t want to let that slide by. We wanted to be a big part of that and be part of the brewery tourism and what’s happening with it. So we’re bringing the brewery up, in some respects, from the lower level to the new space,” he said.
Gilmore said back when B.O.B.’s Brewery opened was a similar time to what’s happening now. After it opened, the Arena Brewing Co. opened nearby and Big Buck Brewing made its debut on 28th Street SE.
“There were breweries popping up all across the state, as well as the nation, and then they all blew up. So back then, you could buy a brewery or brewing equipment for very little money. And now it’s all coming back around,” he said.
“Right now, I think there is a lot of staying power. There are some really strong breweries with some great beer, and I don’t see it changing, personally, this time around. I think the craft-beer movement has caught on nationwide, so this time the breweries are going to take hold.”
B.O.B.’s Brewery currently offers 11 of its beers on tap. And like many local breweries, it also brews smaller batches of specialty beers that are available for a short time. “I have trouble keeping up with what they’re up to,” Gilmore said of his brew crew.
The building’s brewery is really a focal point of the entire expansion project and not just the first phase. Its craft beers also are a key element of the second stage.
While the new space is expected to open July 1, the second phase of the project is set to begin in October after ArtPrize. It calls for a biergarten that will highlight The B.O.B.’s beers, such as its Hopsun Belgian Wit and Peanut Butter Stout.
The second-phase also will deliver a European-style marketplace piazza that will rent kiosks to food vendors, and a two-level, 22,000-square-foot, enclosed event and concert venue that will hold approximately 2,000. The biergarten will open to the piazza and both will be about 40,000 square feet. The biergarten, piazza and concert venue are projected to open in June 2014.
Keith Carey of Carey Design designed the expansion and is working with Integrated Architecture on the project. Rockford Construction Co. is managing the work, which cost about $5 million. The Gilmores bought 29,000 square feet of the Monroe Place parking lot for $55 a square foot from the city, the site for the second phase of construction.
The B.O.B. was once a vacant grocery warehouse that the Gilmores turned into a successful dining and entertainment destination. The building has four stories and 70,000 square feet of space that houses Bobarino’s, Crush, Eve, Dr. Grin’s Comedy Club, Judson’s Steakhouse and the Brewery.
“When I started this project, it was over 10 years ago. I wasn’t married and I didn’t have four kids. So it’s a big project to take on right now,” Gilmore said with a laugh. “But we’ve also simplified it in many respects so that it’s more viable, without a huge investment of time, operations and expense, as well.”