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Cultural Planners Forsee Arts Development, Marketing Leading to Jobs

"Bay First!" Arts, Historic Preservation Thrust Key to Economic Development

October 26, 2003       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Former site of Industrial Brownhoist on 40 acres of riverfront will be a main development, to be known as Uptown at RiversEdge, in cultural and economic development in Bay City's future
Cultural activities such as historic trolley tours through the Bay County Historical Society will be one focus of arts and cultural programming under the cultural development plan now in process.

Bay First!

You're going to hear and see that slogan more and more.

"That is the working title that the Bay Area Community Cultural Plan Steering Committee developed," states consultant Louise K. Stevens of ArtsMarket, a Bozeman, Montana, firm.

What the slogan means is that the arts will be positioned as a force in every area of the community, especially economic development.

The planning process may lead to developing the old Center Avenue branch library as "a signature facility to serve as the administrative (and possibly rehearsal and performance) home for the arts," administered by the Bay Arts Council.

Observers of the community scene expect Thomas Niemann, longtime arts advocate and retired General Motorsexecutive, to step into leadership in place of Diane Middleton, who resigned recently as executive director of the Arts Council.

Niemann and other longtime arts leaders will provide continuity to the process of coordinating a variety of arts offerings through programming at the State Theatre, which is assuming heroic proportions. The leaders also now have to coordinate between two symphony orchestras, the new Bijou Orchestra promoted by conductor Leo Najar and attorney David Skinner, and the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, which expanded to serve Bay City several years ago.

At the same time, an associated Historic Preservation Committee is urging government and private entities to re-use historic properties, increasing public awareness of historic resources, historic signage and establishment of more historic districts in Bay County.

Restoration of the Pere Marquette Union Station is on the front burner of this thrust, with a multi-million dollar grant and fund-raising campaignlooming to restore the building to its one-time splendor.

Planners may urge the City of Bay City to include a historic center themed to Bay City's maritime history in the Uptown at River's Edge development on the old Industrial Brownhoist site.

Expect to see more public art and more artist-led businesses such as galleries, studios, retail and performance spaces in downtown Bay City as the planning bears fruit. Empty storefronts will be used for arts exhibition and streetscapes and signage will enhance cultural districts.

"The intent of the Bay First! Plan is to provide guidance, focus and funding for essential cultural development that will make the Bay Area first in the region and beyond in strengthening all facets of civic, educational and economic development through arts and culture," states the draft plan prepared by ArtsMarket.

"The Bay Area has extensive cultural resources, most of which are undercapitalized and largely unknown outside the community," the plan'sintroduction states, adding: "But gradually Bay City and the county are becoming better known for historic architecture and important local history and for an abundance of performing and visual arts activity and special events and festivals that draw visitors from throughout the state and beyond."

Six goals in the plan are: 1) Strengthen arts and culture in the Bay Area to be a major force in future community development through funding and investment; 2) Develop cultural facilities and districts, including hub facilities for arts activities in Bay City; 3) Effectively market and promote the arts and cultural assets of the Bay Area to residents and tourists, and as an asset for future economic growth in the region; 4) Foster development of strong arts education opportunities for residents of all ages; 5) Further all efforts to preserve the historic architecture and the rich history of the Bay Area; 6) Utilize arts and culture as an asset for economic development.

The key statement in the plan may be: "This marketing also supports the Bay Area's ability to attract new business and industry into the area: businesses want to locate where their employees will have access to a rich civic and cultural life."

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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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