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Dreams Of An Uptown At River's Edge.
TRANSFORMING HISTORICAL INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY INTO PUBLIC AND NEW COMMERCIAL USES..
by Marvin Kusmierz
December 17, 2003



Uptown At River's Edge (UARE) is the name given to a major development project along the east bank of the Saginaw River in downtown Bay City. A significant portion of the project area was once home of the Industrial Works (Brownhoist), a large locomotive crane manufacturer. They start up in 1873 during the lumber boom era, and endured for 110 years before shutting down in 1983. The property has remained largely unused since.


Uptown At River's Edge Project (red)

Dreams of a Science Park.

A little over a decade ago, hopes ran high when local Congressman Robert Traxler was successful in directing a new Super Computer Science Center project to Bay City. The old adminstration building of Industrial Brownhoist (IB) was completely renovated and a super computer was installed. The city scurried to come up plans to improve the area, and an excited community dreamed about a technology center visited by science from around the world. The excited quickly turned to shock Congress suddenly deadended the project here and redirected to another district after the retirement of Congressman Traxler. The government left the community with a 9 million dollar grant for the inconvenience it had caused.

Starting Over.

Since then, the project area has been expanded and now includes property the north of it. An area that runs between the Saginaw River and Saginaw Street which runs north from Columbus Avenue to Ninth Street. During the expansion several businesses were moved.

The project has experienced a number of delays over the past decade, but has been making good progress over the past few years. However, a final plan has yet to materialize. In 2003, the city solicited proposals from private developers and small number were chosen to do presentations. Each featured a gambling casino as the center piece of their project. These were rejected from lack of support to make this into a gambling community.

The city decided hire consultants with an expertise in large community developments. The consultants have been in the process of collecting information and doing studies. Several meeting were held with the public and business interests to get community input. Their findings and recommendations are expected to be reported in early 2004. In the meantime, the community waits anxiously to learn what the UARE plan will be?

Suggestions from the community for the project have generally emphasized family oriented activities. Items like an entertainment complex, a state of the art theater, a maritime museum, an amusement park, a boat marina, a new farmers market, and similar forms of family activities. It's with this background that we've formulated our own dream plan of what the UARE project might be. We'll admit up front that we have a strong bias in favor of retaining the historical value of this area. However, we believe there are ways to do this that will make them useful assets.

It can not be over stated how important this project is the community. It also can not be over state how important the history of the project area is to this communities culture. Living a good life is more than having a good job. Nor do new commercial enterises mean a good future. One has only to look at our history to understand this. One has only to visit Hampton Square Mall to see how economics is at best whimsical proposition. The city's responsibilities is not to bring jobs to Bay City, it is make living her desirable. Plans for the new development should ensure a sense of permanency -- that 20, 50 or more years from now it will still be a valued asset of the community.

Brief Reflection on History.

1918 Map of Industrialized River Front

UARE project area shown inside red border.

The history of Bay City has from the very beginning been associated with its location along the Saginaw River near the Saginaw Bay. Thousands of years ago, the Indians wandered into this area and stay because it was an ideal location to live. The first permanent white settlers came here around 1830 for the same reason. Within 30 years, industries scurried here to tap the rich forests and forever changed the landscape. Soon the forests along the rivers were gone. The trains ran into the deep forests to tap their lumber and the good economic times continue. New industries sprang up and many remain prosperours long after the lumber boom ended.

Bay County will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2007. I dare say that only a small minority of the population have any idea how old our history as a community is. The reason for this is our history while well recorded is a silent history. The depth of what has transpired before now in our common heritage is not clearly made evident by our local government, agencies, or educational systems. Where would we be today if it were not for a relatively few who took the time to record our history and publish a book in hopes that what happened would have value to future generations.

The area of the UARE project is exceptionally large. It represents a large piece of Bay City's that very well may disappear a plan limits its reach to only economical considerations. Consultants who are not attached to the history of this community can not appreciate it as much as the people who were a part of it or no of its history.

The Industrial Works began doing business in 1873 as a manufacturing shop servicing sawmills on the Saginaw River. A few years later, it began making locomotive cranes and became a major supplier of them around the world. This locally grown business endured for 110 years before shutting down in 1983. At that time Bay County was only 126 years old. During its existence was a major factor in the live of Bay City providing thousands of jobs, adding emensely to tax revenues, directly and indirectly through its employess.

A second building on the UARE property holds a special place in the transportation history of Bay City. The Bay City Traction and Electric building was built in 1885 to provide power for Bay City's trolley system. This building is unique enough to be recorded in Historical American Engineering records housed by the Library of Congress.

Once these buildings vanish, we will loose an important unique physical record of our past. The decision to tear them down has based on more than their economical value. If their presence does not make or break the economy of the project... they should remain. The city learned a lesson when it came time to make a decision on City Hall. Badly in need of major repairs, many push for it's distruction and for building a new building on the spot that would be less costly than restoration. When a city looses its heritage building, it loose a piece of its history and the important role it plays in the culture of its citizens.

The existence of the Bay-Journal website was born out of the fact that there is vastly more to our history than what is made evident through present public sources. It is a story that we wanted to make it easy for the public to become aware of. Since our journey into learning about our local history, it hard not to see the city in light of this knowledge. To appreciate the names of city streets name after some of our pioneers that I new little to nothing about before. To drive down Center Avenue and see the homesteads of pioneers that we keep stumbling onto at the library. To view the Midland Street Business as the village that Henry Sage built when he started up his sawmill in 1865. To dream of the wooden schooners built by James Davison who had his shipyard near where the Bay County Community Center is location in Veterans Memorial Park. Knowing our community's history adds greatly to the quality of life of living here.

A Dream Plan Materializes.

As our leaders and the professional consultants deal with the realities of the UaRE project, we found ourselves dreaming of what we would like to in their final plan. We have even created a rough layout which we quickly point out is not to scale. Dreams do not have the disadvantage of engineering correctness, economic success, or other realities. We simply made things fit with what we imagined.

The heart of our dream plan is a Heritage Park. It's located by the Saginaw River and is shaped by a river channel that separates it physically from the surrounding commercial area. All walkways are angled and led to the park. The park is access over several walk over bridges that are high enough to allow small boats to navigate underneath them.

Within Heritage Park there are "no commercial" entities. The park is used solely for public purposes and "no pay to see" activities are allowed regardless of the cause. The park is surrounded by an area available for commercial development.

At the center of the park is a historical monument representing the history of our community and others in Bay County. Our dream envisions a tall monument with life-size sculptures gazing out over the river. The sculptures rest on a tall curved wall which holds plaques dedicated to the memory of prominent pioneers. The inside of the curved wall serves a back drop for a small all weather stage where "free" performances can take place.

Each of the open areas (shaped like slices of a pie) in the park include seating that faces towards the monument, stage and river. The landscaping of each area is unique representing the different natural plants of this area.

Land to the north edge of the park along the river is reserved for a small cultural campus .

Major Features.

There are endless possibilities for creating a public/commercial plan that will merge these interests as well as enhancing what already exists along or near the river. Our dream features have this in mind:

    Parking: A large parking lot centrally located off Saginaw Street puts all features within a short walking distance.

    Walkways: An artery of walkways connect to main diagonal walkways that lead to Heritage Park like spokes of a wheel. Each walkways is named in honor of local pioneers, i.e, Birney Lane, Trombley Lane, Clements Lane, etc..

    This building was built in 1893, and is included in the Historic American Engineering records of the Library of Congress.
    {View Record}

    Trolley System: A new trolley system is created utilizing the historic Bay City Traction and Electric building as a trolly station. Trolley system plays an integral part in transporting the public to other business districts and ties together with other strategically located large parking lots.

    Public Complexes: Our dream visualizes retaining at least two of the Industrial Brownhoist buildings to create a museum complex and a public pavilion. Both buildings are renovated for all weather use. Their exterior walls are made of glass, the roof include solar panels, and the floors are made of bricks with islands of green areas scatter about.

      Museum Building: The museum complex serves as a central facilities for all existing societies assuring public space for each to have office space, display historical artifacts, archieve historical records, or hold meetings and have public presentations. This building has a large open area from floor to ceiling where large exhibits are displayed. The other section has several floor levels that accomodate the other needs.

      Pavilion Building: The pavilion complex serves as a central facility for large public events. Each of the exterior glass walls has a large garage like door that can be opened or closed when desired. There are no walls inside that extend to the ceiling. Its brick floor has a series of green island area of trees shrubs and grass where seating is available, and a centrally located public restrooms facility.

      Other Buildings: One more other buildings might find value as boathouse associated with a docking facilities, an educational building, a unique apartment complex or a shopping mall. Commercial entities may find them unique, cost effective, and their location attractive for doing business.

    River Access: To the the north and south edges of the park are two docking areas. The south one for permanent docking and the north one for transient docking. Small boats are able to navigate the wide channel surrounding the park.

    Streets: Saginaw Street allows four lanes of traffic. Water Street is extended south into the development area and connects to Saginaw at Ninth Street. To the west of it is a drive that loops along the edge of the river underneath the Veterans Memorial Bridge connecting to the new hotel/conference center and Wenonah Park.

    Commercial: Water, sewer, electrical and other infrastructure are put in place. Each has a lawn until private investors . They are lawn readied for commercial devopment by private investors. All are commercials grassplace for private business investments. A building zoning ordinace and develop plan is in place to assure a blending of public and business facilties.

A Dream Story.

Heading north down Saginaw Street, we pull into the large parking lot to spend the better part of a day seeing the newly opened district before doing some shopping. We head over to the area south of the park lot get a look at the Heritage Museum and Heritage Pavilion buildings. We were impressed as we drove in by their huge size and the glass walls that reflected images of the surrounding areas. We enter the Heritage Museum from a side entrace in the middle of the building and into the large open area where on display is the president yacht built by Defoe Shipbuilding. There is also a large vintage fire truck, a Model T auto and a display of an Indian canoe and wigwam. Hanging high above from the ceiling is a replica of an early Wright Brothers plane similar to the one flown here in the early days of avaition. The other portion of the building is enclosed and has several floor levels where we find additional exhibits, offices, storage and a large meeting/presentation room. There much to see and learn about the communities history which will have to wait for another day. We continue on over to the Heritage Pavilion.

We notice that the glass covered garage on each wall are all open and there seems to be plenty of activity going on inside. We enter through the west entrance into the center of the building. We have a clear view of the inside as there are no inner walls to obstruct our sight. The floor is made of brick which is broken up by landscaped islands of green and colorful vegetation. In the south section an arts and crafts show is taking place and in the north end produce is being sold by local farmers. Before wandering around, we head over to the restrooms which are conveniently located in the center of the building with a nice seating area where we can relax our tired feet for a few minutes. We notice the electric bulletin board hanging above the rest rooms, it is displaying messages and scheduled community activities. The Bijou Orchestra is will be playing this Friday and Saturday evening at the Historical State Theater, the following weekend they'll at the Heritage Pavilion. The pavilion is able to accomodate paid events in the evening while being open during the day for public events. This has taken a large burden off Wenonah Park which is primarily used to non-paying events now. We wander through the pavilion buying a few craft items and some fresh produced before heading out. We swing by the parking area where we rent a storage locker to hold our purchases before heading over to Heritage Park.

We can hear the inviting sound of a banjo coming from the park and hurriedly take the closest walk bridge over the river channel that borders the park. A small boat passed underneath and we exhange greetings with them. The park is a beautiful sight, it's full of color from the pie shaped garden areas. The only trees in the park line are along the rim of the channel and we have a good panoramic view of the river and Veterans Memorial Park on the west side. The only obstruction breaking the horizon line is the heritage monument that juts upward near the river's edges in the center of the park.

There we see our banjo player sitting on an elevated stage infront of the monument. We past by the seating area near the stage to take a closer look at the monument. Life size figures of an Indian family and white settler family are perched on curve wall of which the inner side of the curve acts as a back drop for the stage. Each of the life-side figures are gazing in different directions. Below them the inscription reads, "Behold This Paradise Where We Shall Live A Good Life." We walk around the curve wall which holds bronze plaques, each dedicated to a prominent pioneer in the community's history such as James G. Birney, James Davidson, Harry Defoe, James Fraser, Albert Miller, and many more.

From here, we turn to taken in a panoramic view from within the park and beyond its landscaped borders. The merchant buildings ringing the park are all of single level construction and their style gives the appearance of a village. They are well spaced with green areas in between so as not to limit the depth of view to or from the park. There are a variety of businesses wanting to located here or nearby. The channel area draws businesses like boating services and supplies, bike repair and rental, a fine dining restaurant with evening with evening entertainment, a sub-sandwich shop with an ice cream parlor and more yet to come. Beyond them is another business district with multi-level buildings for business offices, single bedroom apartment complex and similar uses. We also can clearly see the tower of the City Hall which has been opened to the public so anyone may get a birds-eye view of the city. Near the river shore and just outside of the north end of the park is an educational campus where the local schools are holding off site classes.

We now head back to the parking lot figuring we'll do some shopping at the new outdoor malls.

As we near the parking lot, we decide to leave the car here and either rent a bike or take the trolley. We opted for the trolley and headed over to the Bay Transit Trolley Station next to the park lot. The trolley has a variety of routes that loop to various key business districts for shopping as wells as routes primarily for tourist interested in seeing the history of our community. We take the shopping route trolley loops north through the uptown area then over the Liberty Bridge through Veterans Memorial Park and returns over Lafayette Bridge back to the station.

We get off the trolley at the Saginaw and Center intersection and the outside edge of the Center and Washington Mall. We are impressed by its appearance and the number of new shops that are located here. The outdoor mall was created by closing Center from Saginaw to Adams, and Washington from Sixth to Fifth. All of the pavement was torn out and replaced with a brick surface spotted with green areas with trees, shrubs and flowers. The beatiful mini-park with a fountain and seating covers the old intersection of Washington and Center. The area is well shaded century old buildings, many of which have upper level condos and apartments with merchant stores at the ground level. Theres a meat store, dry cleaners, food and beverage market, drug store and others that set up businesses to serve the growing downtown residential community. We shop for a while then break for lunch at an outdoor cafe before heading over to the west side business district.

We catch a trolley at the intersection of Washington and Fifth and it heads north down Washington. As we pass the Bay Metro Transit Bus Station we notice many tourist business unloading visitors. They must be here for the Annual Heritage Weekend Festival which has activities going on all over the city. The trolley turns at Woodside and heads west over the liberty bridge and have a nice view south of the river front lined with public docking facilties used by shoppers as well as tourist from out of town. Our trolley turns west on Henry Street and passes by the new Midland Street Mall which is designed the same as Center and Washington Mall. Midland Street was closed from Henry Street east to the end of Herfer and Hops Restaurant. A new loop was created off the Liberty Bridge that now takes traffic under the bridge into the park and the east section of the outdoor mall. Our trolly is heading for another park entrance comes of John Street where a trolley sub-station has been built with a large public parking lot. Inside the park, our the trolley turns right onto John F. Kennedy Drive and goes pass the Community Center. Rather heading out the old entrance, the trolley continues north on the new road that connects to south end of the park before heading back to Henry Street and towards the Salzburg Business District and over the Lafayette Bridge. The trolley's home leg continues down Lafayette Street to Garfield and finally back to the Bay Transit Trolley Station.

As we're getting off the trolley to head for our rental storage box... we are startled out of our dream by a loud banging! It's our neighbor pounding away at our front door! As we open the door, he anxiously exclaims, "I had a dream last night that I have to share with you! It was about the Uptown At River's Edge project! You just won't believe what I dreamed about it! Let's have a coffee while I tell you more about the this park, trolley cars, merchant village, out door malls, ...."


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