GRAND RAPIDS, MI - After six weeks of installing sound equipment, furniture and signs inside 20 Monroe Live -- downtown's newest concert venue -- David Fortin is eager to install the final ingredient - performers and concert-goers.
"Until you have people in the room, you really don't know what you have," said Fortin, who will host an invitation-only party at the club on Tuesday, Jan. 31 before opening the doors to Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
With that first performance, the 2,600-seat venue will host 17 concerts in February as it becomes part of the West Michigan music scene with performances by Umphrey's McGee, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dita VonTeese and the Art of the Teese Burlesque Revue and The Verve Pipe.
During the past week, the venue has hosted a party for construction workers and their families and a Saturday afternoon open house for neighbors who live across the street in Plaza Towers.
The "soft openings" have helped them gauge traffic flow and fine-tune the sound systems, said Fortin, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Live Nation's House of Blues Entertainment.
Grand Rapids will be a popular stop for bands on a Midwestern swing, Fortin said. House of Blues also operates clubs in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis.
"Bands want to work," said Fortin. In a time where bands no longer bank on big record contracts and radio play, touring puts money in their pockets through ticket and merchandise sales.
"The streaming royalties for the most part are not paying the bills," said Fortin, noting some bands will perform up to 250 shows a year. "It really has shifted back to getting out on the road."
The new venue can handle a variety of acts because it has a moveable stage that can expand or contract the performance space. "We always want the room to feel right," he said.
20 Monroe Live is owned by Greg Gilmore, who also operates the B.O.B., a four-story nightclub with bars and restaurants located next door. Gilmore will provide food and libations for the 20 Monroe Live and plans to complete a covered beer garden on the block this spring.
The new venue will offer a variety of concert experiences, ranging from general admission tickets to multiple performance packages that will give the patron exclusive access to the Vanguard VIP club and a reserved seat with a dedicated server.
In the downtown market, 20 Monroe Live will compete against larger venues such as Van Andel Arena, with up to 11,000 seats, and similar venues such as DeVos Performance Hall, with 2,400 seats. 20 Monroe Live also will compete with smaller venues, such as Meijer Gardens, with seating for 1,900 and The Intersection, which can seat up to 1,800.
Fortin said he believes the Grand Rapids market has grown enough to accommodate all of its concert venues.
While downtown is becoming more crowded with the success of the 20-year-old Van Andel Arena, the arrival of new apartment buildings, restaurants and next year, a movie theater, Fortin said he does not believe parking or traffic will be an issue.
"We definitely encourage ride-sharing, Uber and Lyft," he said.