CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Blue Dog Tavern owner Fred Mackraz’s name. We regret this error which has since been corrected.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids restaurant dubbed a “neighborhood icon” is about to grow on the city’s West Side.
On Thursday, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved a special land use request by Blue Dog Tavern, located at the corner 4th Street and Stocking Avenue NW. Owner Fred Mackraz plans to expand his bar and restaurant to the site of the former Guest House next door.
His plans call for tearing off the building’s dilapidated roof and backwall to create an outdoor courtyard that’ll accommodate up to 122 people. Mackraz wants to keep The Guest House’s facade intact if possible.
“We love, I love and it turns out people love just that preserving the history of it. We’d like to do that here. We’d like to keep that facade,” he told planning commissioners.
Mackraz says the new outside dining area will be partially covered so it can serve as a three-season space. It’ll include an area for yard games like bocce ball and summer curling.
Mackraz says outdoor dining spaces like this are where people flock to after a long West Michigan winter.
“Our business takes a precipitous hit in the summer, especially in the spring when the (milder) weather comes out, so we see a very big drop and we would like to be able to offer outdoor seating as an option for our patrons,” he said.
But Mackraz said he acquired the property at 634 Stocking primarily to expand Blue Dog Tavern’s kitchen.
“We do a lot of business out of a very tiny space now so that seemed to be a good fit,” he said.
Blue Dog Tavern’s expansion plan also includes new restrooms and a covered area to keep dumpsters on site.
The lone complaint against the proposal came from the Monarchs’ Club owner, who is concerned about a potential uptick in parking needs. He said some Blue Dog Tavern customers already park in his lot.
Mackraz said he has similar problems with people from outside businesses parking in the lot he shares with Morning Ritual.
“It’s growing pains, is the way I look at it. It’s not always perfect. It’s growing pains as you develop and grow. I’m balancing that the growth is better than someone having to park down the street a bit and walking to our place,” Mackraz said, pointing to available street parking and public transit options.
City planner Elizabeth Zeller confirmed that Blue Dog Tavern is the only business in the area that’s active during the evenings, so it won’t compete with other places for parking.
Planning Commissioner Susan Shannon said she counted 20 street side parking spots nearby, which more than covered Blue Dog Tavern’s deficit of 18 parking spots.
“I think this is a wonderful addition to what has become a neighborhood icon. I know I’ve driven over there for burgers plenty of times and been able to find parking. So I think the addition just makes it more of a neighborhood place and as well as attracting from what’s going on on Bridge Street,” Shannon said.
Mackraz said Blue Dog Tavern shares the planning commission’s vision for walkability.
“We’re developing. Bridge Street blew up and that is walkable, that is a social district, that is dense. We’re not there, I don’t think we will ever get there, but as we fill up Stocking, the hope is people can walk comfortably, safely along all of these places,” Mackraz said.
Mackraz said he believes transforming the mostly-unused Guest Room will be good for the neighborhood, bringing more jobs to the area.
Mackraz says he has no plans to change the existing Blue Dog Tavern, which currently seats 37 people inside.
“My first task for my architect was I don’t want to screw up the Blue Dog. It’s a good thing. We like it, we don’t want to change the feel, we don’t want to change the business plan, we don’t want to change the menu,” he assured.
Once complete, Blue Dog Tavern’s outdoor dining space can stay open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.