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Stateside Podcast: New life for an iconic Michigan barn

M GO BLUE barn in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Picture shows trees, green grass, an overcast sky and a red barn with a yellow banner that reads "Support the future of this iconic landmark at 'Barn and Grill' on Kickstarter.com."
Parker family
Michigan Radio
The Ann Arbor "M GO BLUE" barn is in plans to become a "barn and grill."

If you’ve ever driven down Scio Church Road in Ann Arbor, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a barn with “M Go Blue” shingled into the side of its roof. The barn has long been a local Ann Arbor landmark, and even gotten national attention with shots of it showing up on ESPN during college football games. Now, the family that owns the barn is hoping to give it a second life as a beer garden and restaurant.

Bill Parker and his wife, Katie, have owned the barn and the accompanying house and property since 1992. He said that the “M Go Blue” roof that made the barn iconic was actually “quite an accident.” When they first bought the property and were making repairs on the house, Bill realized the barn’s roof was in need of a replacement.

“That's the beginning of the end for barns, when the roof fails. Pretty soon then, they rot and they fall down.”

When Bill hired someone to replace it, the company said they could put a picture on one side of it for free. Would he like farm animals or maybe the family name? Bill said neither of those options seemed appealing. It was Parker’s son Chris, who was working on college applications at the time, that suggested they spell out “Go Blue.” It stuck.

Within a few years, Bill said that the barn gained a kind of celebrity status in the Ann Arbor community and beyond. Bill’s son Matt, who is spearheading the barn’s reinvention, remembers when it was featured on a Super Bowl ad for Nicotrol, a smoking cessation patch.

“We still don't even know how they picked us,” said Matt. “They told us they were just driving by and they saw it.”

The barn was frequently featured on the jumbotron at the University of Michigan’s football stadium, and the Goodyear blimp even started capturing pictures of it. The university’s alumni association made a video and print ads featuring the barn. It was also printed on banners that Michigan alumni scattered throughout the country used for meetups.

”It was the strangest thing,” Matt said. “When I went to see Michigan games in West Los Angeles, I would walk underneath a banner of my barn. It was very surreal.”

Whether for its clout or prime real estate, the Parkers, who also own the surrounding land, have been approached by multiple developers looking to build everything from churches to country-themed gas stations. But since those plans all would mean the end of the iconic barn, they turned down the offers. But as Bill and Katie reached retirement age, Matt said he wanted to solidify plans for the property.

“I started thinking, well, what can we do to support the barn as a business enterprise?” he recalled.

Matt pitched his family on the idea of saving the barn’s exterior while turning it into a space the public could experience in a different way — as a restaurant and beer garden called the “Barn and Grill.” Bill said he loved it.

They initially started raising money for the project on Kickstarter, but got picked up by a development company interested in bringing the “Barn and Grill” concept to life. The family hopes the project will bring the more than 100-year-old barn to the modern era, while keeping its long history alive.

“Just like many old dairy barns that were built around the same period,” Matt said, “it doesn't have the ability to be used as it once was, and it needs to be given a second life.”

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Claire Murashima is a production assistant for Stateside.
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.