MACON, Ga. — Every morning and evening, Patrick Cheek leaves his downtown apartment and walks his terrier-mix, Ernie.
Finding a place that welcomes dogs was crucial when he moved into the Lofts at Capricorn in June.
Downtown Macon has become quite a haven for dog lovers.
“Surprisingly, it’s pretty dog-friendly,” said Cheek, as he took his 10-year-old companion for their morning walk Friday. “It’s really great. Fall Line (Brewery) and Just Tap’d usually have water out so we just build that into our walk. We’ll walk up to Just Tap’d. He’ll get water, get refreshed and usually there’s other dogs there. We say ‘hello’ and we come back.”
Cheek and other downtown residents will have another option come spring – the Barks n’ Brews dog park and bar on Riverside Drive at Rotary Park near First Street.
Macon native Kate Lambert has wanted to build a downtown dog park ever since she visited a similar one in Atlanta.
“The concept is an off-leash dog park and bar,” said the 30-year-old Lambert, who works as a school teacher. “We are very much a dog-loving community, Macon is. I’ve always owned a dog. All my family members have dogs. We’re just a family of dog owners and I think we’re a community of dog owners.”
She plans to bring in an Airstream trailer where coffee will be sold in the morning and beer and wine offered in the afternoon.
Her pet project recently won the support of the Urban Development Authority, which owns the roughly 1.5-acre tract, and NewTown Macon, which maintains and markets the property for potential development.
Amid the residential loft boom that began more than a decade ago, about 1,000 people now call downtown home, said Josh Rogers, NewTown’s CEO.
“We have almost as many dogs in downtown lofts as we do people,” Rogers said. “We think it’s really going to be a great amenity.”
Rogers estimates there are about 600 dogs currently living in downtown apartments.
Lambert, who lives in the Ingleside neighborhood, said she couldn’t really consider a move downtown without a yard for her 11-year-old lab-golden retriever mix, Tucker.
She thinks there are other dog lovers like her who would move downtown if there were a place for dogs to roam free.
Once Barks n’ Brews is established, she plans to offer doggie daycare.
“I think about people who work downtown and have dogs and also people who live in lofts, both, who might want an option of – ‘You know what, it’s a beautiful day. I want my dog to be outside and not cooped up all day. I can drop them off before work, have a cup of coffee and then come back at my lunch break or at the end of the day and have a beer.’”
The park will include a couple of covered pavilions with televisions and places for folks to sit and socialize with pets and people.
Lambert is in the process of obtaining the necessary permits and business licensing, but hopes to open in early March.
Safety also is paramount with Lambert and her CPA brother, David Lambert, who is a partner in the project.
An 8-foot fence is planned to keep the dogs contained and safely away from traffic.
“All the dogs will have to show their papers before they enter to make sure they have all their vaccinations,” she said. “Things like that I think are important because dogs are family and you want to make sure you can keep them safe.”
Admission will be charged daily or dog owners can opt for monthly or yearly memberships for more frequent access. Lambert said she is still working out the price structure for her new venture.
The Urban Development Authority, which has owned the property since 1999 according to tax records, will be leasing the space for $100 per year in the initial 5-year contract. Lambert will take over maintenance and utility costs that had been NewTown’s responsibility, said UDA executive director Alex Morrison.
“Rotary Park is not well used as it stands, so this would be a good way to get some more activity out there and get more people to recognize that part of town,” Morrision said.
Rogers sees the venture as a way to increase interest in property along the river that downtown advocates hope can be the site of future development.
Lambert scouted downtown property with Rogers earlier this year before settling on Rotary Park.
“I think that downtown obviously has been growing and expanding so much, so quickly, but I do think it’s been expanding in the opposite direction so I’m excited to bring it back to the river, connect to the river,” she said.
At least three more major downtown residential developments are in the planning stages, including proposed Macon Housing Authority lofts on Walnut Street near the entrance to Carolyn Crayton Park at Central City and the conversion of the old Virgil Powers Elementary School on Second Street.
Cheek appears to be sold on the proposal for the privately-run dog park.
“That’s fantastic. I love the idea of it,” he said. “I know there’s the one over kind of near Tattnall (Square Park), but it’s just the imposition of putting him in the car and taking him, so something we could potentially walk to is great.”
Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 at firstname.lastname@example.org.