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Photo of the 1916 Eddy Pavilion

Downtown Development Authority Holds Wenonah Park Town Hall

Meeting At Doubletree Draws Hundreds

November 30, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Stephen Kent

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The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) hosted a Town Hall meeting at the Doubletree on November 30, 2016. The topic of discussion was proposed updates to Wenonah Park on the riverfront. By most estimates between 175 and 200 people attended.

This was a meeting of the City Commission. Commissioner Larry Elliot opened the proceedings with a roll call then accepted a motion to suspend the rules to allow the DDA to have an informational Town Hall meeting.

Dave Green, Chair of the DDA, presented some background on the DDA including the 1975 public act that formed the Authority. He outlined the district boundary and said that most funds come from an approximately 2% tax on property owners in that district. Other funds come from a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in that area.

Eric Jylha then gave a brief history of Wenonah Park noting that the Wenonah Hotel was opened in 1908 and the Eddy Pavilion was added in 1916. Major renovations took place in the 1980's when the Friendship Ring, fountain, band shell and an underground water retention basin was installed. A comprehensive redevelopment plan was developed in 2006. Phase one of that plan was completed in 2008.

Wenonah Park special events, including a potential Pavilion, are managed by the State Theatre under a contract with the City. Previously the park was managed by the Bay Arts Council.

The current discussion stems from a proposed $1 million donation from the Nickless Family Charitable Foundation. That donation requires the construction of some type of facility in the park. The DDA has proposed a new pavilion with a portable, synthetic ice skating surface. Additional funds would be used for other improvements in the park.

There are two positions on this issue. The Chamber of Commerce, downtown developers, business owners and some residents are on the side of constructing the pavilion and rink. The other side, with much the same mix of interests, contends that this type of recreational facility should not be in Wenonah Park and would be better on the other side of the river. Both sides seemed to agree on improvements to the band shell, restroom facilities, and concession areas.

Public questions were taken from the audience and a dozen people spoke. Green provided answers or comments on those questions. Following questions, public comments were invited and another twenty were received.

In one of the last comments, Sandy Rogers called for an informal poll by asking for each group to stand. Observers felt that about the same number stood for each side. It was also noted that a possibly larger number did not stand at all, which could be interpreted as undecided or simply not wishing to take a public position.

This meeting in itself will not decide the issue. But the meeting was cordial and sincere and provided an example of the best public input and discourse on an issue that has decidedly passionate supporters on each side.

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Stephen Kent

Steve Kent and his family have lived in Bay City for 40 years. He is VP of Technical Services at MMCC which produces MyBayCity.Com. Kent is active in many Bay City civic organizations.

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