River of Lights flows through Downtown Bay City again

He’s back! After a several year absence, Santa is all lit up and welcoming people into downtown Bay City. 

Here’s the story behind the jolly old elf’s re-emergence and how you can help restore more lights to the community.

For years, the waving Santa and his reindeer sat atop the F.P. Horak building, visible when people came across Veterans Memorial Bridge into the heart of downtown. But when Horak moved its operations to the Valley Center Technology Park in Monitor Township, Santa and his reindeer were left behind.

Dave Clements missed the classic decoration and enlisted the help of the Bay County Historical Museum and the State Theatre to restore it to the community.

Mike Bacigalupo, director of the Bay County Historical Museum and chief operations officer of the State Theatre, and Clements rescued the lights from the top of the building and saved them from destruction when the building was razed. 

The lights weren’t out of harm’s way yet. Most were in rough shape. So Clements, his son’s company, Clements Electric, and the local IBEW donated the work and supplies needed to restore the lights. 

Santa’s journey wasn’t over yet. The Horak building is gone, making room for the second phase of the Uptown Bay City development. Where to put Santa and his reindeer so everyone could enjoy them? “I told them, ‘Let’s put it on the back of the museum, then you can still see it coming across the river,’ ” Bacigalupo said.

In stepped the City of Bay City, donating equipment to lift the decoration onto the roof of the museum. Keeping it lit will be up to the museum and patrons who fund it, Bacigalupo said.

The Santa display is just one of about 40 Christmas displays that once lit up the city during the Christmas season. Bacigalupo said during the mid-1980s and early 1990s many downtown businesses were part of what was known as The River of Lights that drew shoppers into the area. 

Over the course of the years, many of displays have disappeared from the old Prestolite facility, where they were stored when not in use. But Bacigalupo and the Bay County Historical Society hope they will be found. “We’d love to try to find them, and put them back together, then we’re going to put them to good use.” 

Bacigalupo said he is looking for the community’s help to find the other displays and bring the River of Lights back to life in downtown. “We’re going to look to see what other lights we can fix, and look at putting some on other buildings in Bay City. This was the first one we could do, and the first one we could make happen right away.”

As the light displays are found and restored, Bacigalupo said he will ask downtown businesses to help bring them back to life. “We’re not sure what we can find – but as we find them and refurbish them, we’re going to pop them up onto different buildings.” Then, like Santa, each business will be asked to cover the cost of the lighting and to store the structure from season to season. 

Anyone with information about where the other light displays can be found, can contact the Bay County Historical Society at (989) 893-5733, or through its website at www.bchsmuseum.org. 

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