In 1909, the Robinson Building in the 1600 block of Main Street — familiar to most as the former home of the Army-Navy store — was host to a vaudeville house and theater that offered “a dizzying array of entertainment,” according to newspaper reports of the time.
Today, that space is being transformed into another venture called “The Grand” – a ‘boutique’ bowling alley that will feature upscale dining.
“It’s not going to be the traditional beer and league bowling alley most people grew up with,” said Joe Nester, a vice president for Agape Senior, the hospice and elderly care company headquartered across the street.
The building’s owner — Agape’s founder and chief executive Scott Middleton — renovated three historic buildings for his headquarters at the urging of Mayor Steve Benjamin. Now he’s gotten the renovation bug, Middleton said, and is revamping the Robinson building and the adjacent Marks building.
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The Marks building is planned for retail space.
Middleton incorporated two restaurants into his headquarters project — Michael’s and The Good Life Cafe, and The Grand is an extension of that.
“I wanted to have things to do right outside my (office) door,” he said. “And my intention is the betterment of Main Street.”
Middleton and his son, Greg, who is taking the lead on the project, visited similar bowling alleys in places like Nashville, Tenn.
“And most tend to be upscale,” Nester said.
The Grand plans to offer “an array of dining experiences,” from “alley” baskets of skewered foods served at the lanes, to upscale steak and seafood in a traditional dining room, according to promotional materials. It will also offer an “express lunch” of healthy meals aimed at Main Street workers.
The Grand, expected to open in October, will also feature high-speed internet connections and adjustable space that can be tailored to offer “conference-style” lunch meetings.
The bowling alley will be a new twist for Main Street, which has seen a wave of new restaurant and retail shops in the past few years, spurred by the Agape projects and The Hub student housing complex in a renovated Palmetto Center high rise.
Matt Kennel, president and chief executive of City Center Partnership, which encourages and guides investment in the central business district, said the project is a good one for Main Street.
“I think it’s going to bring more night time activity and add another layer of entertainment that’s more family oriented,” he said. “It will broaden the audience for Main Street a little bit.”