Someday, 2017 may be looked back on as a benchmark year in the history of Bay City and Bay County. Many significant events in the public and private sectors indicate that the area has indeed entered a new era, in part by embracing the value of its existing assets and the energy of a young core of entrepreneurs and community leaders.
Leadership has also been a consistent theme over the course of the year, be it in City Hall or in new and old faces who are investing in the efforts to revitalize the area.
• Developers Matthew Meehan and Rod Hildebrant made a big imprint on the rebirth of the Downtown area with two projects which debuted in 2017, the Times Lofts condominiums and the City Market marketplace. Each of these projects repurposed large buildings with rich local histories. Each also served as building blocks “east of Washington”, as redevelopment in the downtown area moves outside the of the Water St / Saginaw St footprint.
• Hildebrant’s daughter, Jennifer Acosta, has taken up another project to rehabilitate the historic Crapo Building on Washington Street. The mixed-use structure will be “updated” in part by removing facades added in a 1960’s renovation and a complete internal reconfiguration into residential and commercial space. The very visible construction project will create a high value address right in the heart of the City when in opens in 2018.
• Good news was received by City Hall in October when they learned that Bay City had been granted $250,000 by MSHDA for the demolition of blighted properties. 19 blighted houses are targeted for demolition with the funds. The 5th and 6th Street blocks of Grant Street will be of particular focus in this process.
• The most visible – and audible – change in Bay County government this year is the departure of Bay City Manager Rick Finn, after a tumultuous 3-year term in the office. Given the short tenure of most professional City Managers, it is hard to say that one has an “era,” but Finn’s tenure coincided with many positive changes in the City.
It was also consistently mired in minor controversies, from petty squabbles with tax payers and business owners, to the suggestion that he regularly picked a preferred outcome and worked toward that, even if better alternatives presented themselves in the process. There were rumors of tense relationships with others within City Hall and the City Commission. When Finn’s contract was allowed to lapse by the Commission, he was replaced by long-time Bay City employee, Dana Muscott, who has worked in a variety of roles in City Hall, including acting as Interim City Manager prior to Finn’s hiring. In a very short period of time Muscott has shown she will have a dramatically different style when dealing with local citizens, the business community, City employees and the City Commission.
• Ground was broken on the much-discussed Pavilion in Wenonah Park. The multi-use facility will include an artificial ice skating surface in the winter time and be available for rental – like other City owned park facilities – year-round for private and non-profit events. The project has not been without controversy, with complaints ranging from the necessity to maintain the trees that will come down to make the project possible, to the method by which this project was chosen when donated funds where offered to seed a community building project. An initiative to put the pavilion project on the November ballot failed.
• In other news, Auburn built a multi-use pavilion without a lot of press, for less money, with no trees killed and no apparent voter animosity.
• Another confirmation that we have moved into a new era in Bay County occurred at the November ballot box, as three Wards in City elections were won by candidates in their mid-20’s. Along with returning Commissioner Andrew Niedzinski (31), Jesse Dockett (28), Rachelle Hilliker (27) and Cordal Morris (28), the newly elected group help bring the average age of the nine elected commissioners down from 53 to 39 years old. If the four are representative of the future of the City, they begin with an inheritance where more than 80% of the streets need to be resurfaced or rebuilt, the long-term funding of the City owned drawbridges remains an unknown, and the rising cost of public service and utilities continues to be a hot button with residents and business owners. With the amount of work to do, youthful energy will probably come in handy.
• The opioid crisis continues to hit Bay City hard. McLaren Regional Hospital began tracking opioid overdoses this year, separating them from the overdoses of other types of drugs. Well over 100 admissions have been made this year for opioid overdoses. Approximately one call for an opioid overdose is made for every two days within the County, which is on a morbid trend that will see it exceed the 25 deaths from heroin and other opioids in 2016.