Bay City Water Works building inspires dreams. Now, it needs to inspire developers.

For the last decade, few people have had the chance to walk through the former Bay City Water Works building, located next to the Bay City State Park.

Before the city stopped using the building, they took time to close it up properly. That means there's little damage from animals or the weather. Even decades-old paper records are legible.When the city built its new plant about a decade ago, it emptied its belongings out of the building at 488 State Park Drive, but kept an eye toward future development by leaving the heat on and boarding up the windows. That’s paid off as the interior today is dark and dusty, but free of damage from invading animals or graffiti artists.

The pump house equipment still inside the building give it a cool, industrial feeling.Now Steven Black of RiversEdge Development Corp. and Trevor Keyes of Bay Future Inc. are part of a team helping the city market the space to potential developers. So far, no one who has been on the tours has decided to purchase the building, but nearly everyone involved has ideas for what it could become.

Most of the windows are boarded up, but it's not difficult to imagine the large main room filled with sunlight and people.Stakeholders are quick to talk about opportunities for a restaurant, event space, or a boutique hotel. One of the more ambitious goals is selling it to an outdoor outfitter who could use part of the 13,000-square-foot building for retail space and part for research and development.

It’s not hard to see they are enthusiastic about the possibilities.

A staircase leads from the main entrance down to the main floor. The staircase is dusty, but sturdy.Massive water pipes weave through the space, past coal-fired boilers and sturdy mechanical pumps. At one end, a crane stands ready to facilitate repairs. The industrial look inspires talk of a working distillery or brew pub The view of the bay leads to talk about boardwalks or boat slips. The roof isn’t accessible from the building now, but if a developer built a patio up there, Bangor Township Supervisor Glenn Rowley says the view of the bay would be spectacular. Three acres of undeveloped property, nestled up against the Bay City State Park, surround the building.

Cameras and a fence around the exterior have protected the interior from damage. Interior offices lined with windows still exist inside the building.Although the building was built in 1922 for industrial use, that decade was when architects added flourishes to even mundane projects. The Palladian windows feature distinctive curved tops. Decorative medallions sit near several windows. Portions of the floor are glass block. The main entrance features a staircase that would easily look grand leading into an open lobby or auditorium.

While the inside is mostly empty – except for heavy pipes and pumps – there are a few paper records scattered on desks inside the building.“It’s like a time capsule,” says Black as he leads a group through the building. “It was well maintained. This building is solid. It was build to handle heavy machinery. It has a solid roof and the roof is in good shape.  The roof has been maintained and that’s very unusual for a building this old.”

Black believes the building is structurally sound enough to warrant renovation rather than demolition.

The interior is primarily a large, open space, but stairs lead to second-story floors overlooking the main room.“The bones are good and pretty. The bones are healthy and they’re fat,” he says.

Those bones go back to 1922 when this building replaced Bay City’s original water treatment plant. Black says the foundations for the first plant are still visible inside the State Park. While new treatment facilities were built over the years, this building continued serving as a pumping station until about 10 years ago. Then, the city started drawing water from near Alabaster, meaning this pump house was no longer needed.

Old equipment still sits inside the building.The city closed the doors, but didn’t abandon the building. They took steps to preserve the structure. Security cameras and locked fences protect the perimeter. Boards cover the glass windows and heat continues to flow through the building throughout the winter.

Shortly before the 2020 pandemic, Black brought together government, economic development agencies, developers, and other key players to talk about the future of this building.

The team marketing the building hope the new developers include plans for the public to access the historic building.“Coming out of that, RiversEdge has a handful of goals,” Black says. “No. 1, we’d like to see the building saved and not be torn down. No. 2, we’d like to see that whatever goes in here, the public has some kind of access. And, then, No. 3, we heard loud and clear at the forum that this building should be a destination.”

The property has several factors in its favor, beyond its solid structure. It’s located six miles from I-75 and US-23. The State Park campground is across the street and the entrance to the park’s beach is a short walk up the road. The Saginaw Bay is visible from the building. All utilities already exist at the site. There’s ample room for parking. In 2018, Bangor Township published a letter pledging its support for the ideas developers bring.

Representatives from Bay Future, RiversEdge Development, and Bangor Township are taking potential developers through the building, located next to Bay City State Park.“The township is in favor of anyone who makes a go of this,” says Bangor Township Supervisor Glenn Rowley. “We would be willing to work with anybody with any ideas.”

Keyes is equally enthusiastic.

“There are so many things that could happen here. That’s why it’s so exciting.”

Old mechanical equipment still fills the 13,000-square-foot building that once pumped water from the Saginaw Bay into city-owned water treatment plants.Whatever happens here will be expensive. The offering price on the property is $375,000. Black says if the developer wants to preserve the architecture, renovating will be costly and require expertise. With the right developer, those investments could pay big dividends for the entire region, Keyes adds.

“It’s critically important to the township. It’s critically important to the city. It’s critically important to the county,” Keyes says. “The biggest hurdle is finding someone who has the experience and money to develop the space. We’re trying to find the unicorn. We know there’s one out there.”