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Parking lots took up a big chunk of Wenonah Park in the early days. (Photo

WENONAH PARK: Dispute Over Proposed Improvements Simmers

Critics of New Plan Point to Historic Factors, Inattention to Band Shell

October 30, 2016       2 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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What goes around comes around.

The past is prologue.

Those aphorisms are called to mind after last week's community forum hashing over the planning process for upgrades to Wenonah Park. The discussion was dubbed by some attendees as "the Post-It Note Process," referring to the method of making anonymous comments.

Wenonah Park, the subject of a current controversy over proposed improvements, was contentious from the start. In 1907!

That was when voters approved a $200,000 bond issue to remove buildings at the foot of Center Avenue necessary to clear the entrance and create the park.

The property cost more than estimates, mainly because the options secured before the property owners were aware what their property was desired for were allowed to expire and the city was forced to pay more than if the options had been kept alive. That error probably cost the taxpayers twenty or thirty thousand dollars, the Times opined.

By the time the buildings were purchased and torn down, there was only about $50,000 left in the fund. Because of the "shyness of funds," editorialized The Bay City Times, "statuary and other ornamentations so common in parks must be counted out."

However, the commissioners of the newly created park board saved money by deciding not to carry the dock line out a hundred or more feet, which the Times said was "a display of wisdom and appreciation of the financial condition of the board's treasury."

Another sticky wicket was the declaration by the Wenonah Building Company to build an auditorium in connection with the hotel, "to become part of the hotel and park scheme," according to The Times, that headlined "HOTEL MEN NOT WELCHERS."

"As responsible citizens interested in the welfare of Bay City, the Wenonah building company have renewed their guarantee that they will build an auditorium as an annex to the hotel, and this ought to put an end to the discussion."

The hotel did have a large ballroom that accommodated public gatherings but did not have what might be considered an auditorium.

OK, so that was then -- 109 years ago -- and this is now. Opponents of a what some critics consider a grandiose plan to add a pavilion with ice skating rink, warming house/public bathrooms, concession stand, and equipment storage buildings have looked back to olden times and noted similar comments attacking a "circus" style approach.

Others were concerned because the proposed renovation plans did not address the Friendship Shell, home to popular summer concerts, a structure reportedly needing work.

One pithy comment stands out:

"This is not a project born from an unmet need and groundswell of community support. This is likely one person's idea that is being shoved down our throats with the threat of losing a really significant chunk of money. It's a damn shame. There are lots of other projects that could use that kind of investment -- like the Friendship Shell."

The main question concerns the wishes of the Nickless family who reportedly have offered a $2 million donation. Does their offer depend on building a skating rink, or was that idea put forward by officials of the State Theatre, the entity that controls park operations under a contract with the City of Bay City?

One approach to resolving the issue was posed: "So how do we contact the family and learn the truth?"

Another comment was, if the donors insist on the skating rink, etc., "we (should) just turn down the money as money should not dictate what we do with public property in Bay City."

The appellation "Disneyfication" has been raised by the most vocal activist and downtown maven, retired attorney Robert Sarow, who commented at length about Wenonah Park plans in an e-mail to concerned citizens:

"I don't believe any athletic installations should be located in Wenonah Park; there are much more appropriate sites for them. Further, I oppose construction of any permanent buildings (lavatories, concession stand, etc.) within areas of the park which are now open.

"With respect to lavatories, I suggest that the current facilities be renovated or replaced by new facilities in the area where the lavatories are now situated along the north side of the park close by the retention basin structures which necessarily must be retained.

"A new concession building should be located where for the past ten or more years during events (e.g., summer Wed. night concerts in the band shell), a temporary concession stand has been placed.

"I believe the question I asked in my prior email is pertinent: "Why can't the park be merely a park with grass, trees, walkways and benches?"

Ah, Bay City, where any idea goes through a baptism of fire before it is rejected or adopted. Heartwarming, isn't it?


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"The BUZZ" - Read Feedback From Readers!

Hollerback Says:       On October 31, 2016 at 12:45 AM
As a suggestion the Park could be a county wide issue with at least three proposals that would be supported by millage.

The majority would carry the day and the different groups would be served. With enough money anything at Wenonah Park is possible for all seasons.
sunbeamf Says:       On October 31, 2016 at 10:57 AM
I agree!! Let's have a vote!!
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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