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Ice skaters at Loy E. Harris Pavilion, Manassas, Virginia

ICE RINK HEATS UP: Wenonah Park Pavilion Hot Bay City Topic

March 29, 2016       1 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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The Arthur H. Nickless Charitable Foundation has offered to donate $1 million to a downtown project as a tribute to the late Mr. Nickless, a community telephone company pioneer and native of Bay City.

Will the proposed pavilion for ice skating and events on the riverfront in Wenonah Park be a total benefit to downtown?

Or will the ancillary buildings, like a Zamboni storage barn, warming house and concession stand, take away from the ambiance of the park and restrict the view of the river?

It depends on your point of view and openness to new ideas, say supporters.

Opponents are gathering for potential conflict at City Hall over the proposal by leaders of the State Theatre who have already raised over $1 million just during the "concept" phase. Goal reportedly is $3 million, including a $1 million endowment for maintenance.

The State Theatre, which took over from the Bay Arts Council in 2014, has control of events in Wenonah Park by virtue of an agreement with the city. The State presents a series of cultural and musical events in the summertime.

Impresario Mike Bacigalupo is executive director of the State Theatre as well as the chief operating officer of the Temple Theatre in Saginaw. Jack Kidwell, senior vice president of Tri-Star Trust Bank, Saginaw, is a member of the State Theatre board. An IRS Form 990 filing in 2014 showed Tri-Star being paid $75,000 to administer the Nickless foundation.

Mr. Bacigalupo explained to The Bay City Times how the project came about: "The Nickless family was looking for a community project for Bay City and the administrator of their foundation Jack Kidwell, who is also on the Board of Directors at the State Theatre, asked me if there were any community projects in the works that I knew of at the time and this is the one that came to mind."

Jenifer Acosta, president of the Neighborhood Development Company, Midland, is the developer for the pavilion. She is on the Bay City Downtown Management Board and was a member of the city's strategic planning sub-committee.

The city planning commission is perhaps where the decision on locating the proposed pavilion will be made, although the city commission ultimately could be a determining factor.

A Wenonah Park Stakeholder's Workshop will be held Wednesday, April 6 at City Hall. OHM Advisors, Inc., the consulting firm retained by the City to provide advice and recommendations for revisions in the 2006 Wenonah Park master plan, will explain procedures that will be involved in preparing its report. Under the Open Meetings Act, the workshop meeting is open to the public.

Supporters point to the Loy E. Harris Pavilion in downtown Manassas, Virginia, as a prime example of such a facility as a benefit.

Manassas spent about $2 million for its pavilion that from all reports appears to be well received and heavily attended during ice skating season. On Thursdays beginning in April, the pavilion is home to a farmer's market from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Shirley Roberts, director of the Tall Ships Festival, says the pavilion proposed for Wenonah Park would take up much of the existing green space in the park and occupy territory now used by Tall Ships tents during occasional Dow Corning-sponsored festivals.

A push by opponents of the use of the Wenonah Park site in many cases points directly across the river, to Veterans Memorial Park, where larger green space areas exist. They note that a skating rink was previously located there and an existing tennis court complex is slated for removal.

Supporters of the project say the three heiresses who run the Nickless Family Charitable Foundation have restricted their funding to use of Wenonah Park. They hope to leave a lasting legacy to their late father, Arthur H. Nickless, born in Bay City in 1923. He died at age 88 in 2011 in Sun City, Arizona.

Surviving him are his three daughters: Joanie Tankersley of Redwood City, CA; Janet Royce of Allendale, MI, and Judy Graham of Rye, NY. They are the trustees of the foundation seeking to establish the pavilion in Wenonah Park, according to local sources. Ms. Royce is president of the foundation, based in Okemos, Michigan.

Nickless, who attended Bay City Central High and was an engineering graduate of Tri-State College, Angola, Indiana, was a second lieutenant in the Air Force during World War II. After working for a time at Dow Corning, he acquired the Millington Independent Telephone Company, with 595 subscribers, in 1947, for $23,000. Later he developed the Wolverine Telephone Company serving several mid-Michigan communities.

After the 2004 death of his wife, Helen Marie Miller, he endowed the Helen M. Nickless Volunteer Clinic of the Bay Medical Center, now the McLaren-Bay Medical Center. The Volunteer Center has served thousands of patients over the past decade.

The Nickless Foundation also has supported the McLaren Cancer Center, First Presbyterian Church and gives scholarship grants to teams of high school students through the A.H. Nickless Innovation program administered by Saginaw Valley State University.


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jerbears_2000 Says:       On April 03, 2016 at 10:46 AM
I can't help but see this project as half thought through. Will it use up a lot of the green space in the park? Of course it will. Is there a better use of this space? Probably. Do we need or will we use an outdoor skating rink with all the costs of maintaining it? Probably not, if past rinks are any indicator. Is there another way to use this money (1 million) in Wenona Park in a more productive manner? I really can't see that anyone has investigated this aspect but, I bet there is. Is a shaded pavillion going to be used any more in the summer than the natural trees there now? hard to say, but is it worth 3 million to find out?
Agree? or Disagree?

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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