Bay County Growth Alliance to offer grants to encourage economic development

It started out as a partnership with Monitor Township and was instrumental in getting the Valley Center Industrial Park off to a solid start. This year, the Bay County Growth Alliance (BCGA) celebrates its 40th birthday by stepping in to help with the infrastructure funding for two Downtown Bay City projects.

Chris Girard, President of the Board of Directors for the Growth Alliance, said the economic development organization got it start as Forward Bay County Inc., back in 1974 with over $1.6 million in grant funds from the federal government, and grew from there. Over the past 40 years, the Growth Alliance has helped fill the gaps in infrastructure funding to draw businesses into the community.

Improvements to infrastructure, such as sidewalk repairs, make communities more appealing to visitors and business developers.Most recently, the Growth Alliance has helped with gap financing for several downtown projects, including the Dow Bay Area Family Y, the Mill End Lofts project and the Pere Marquette Depot. Girard said the Growth Alliance was also instrumental in bringing businesses into Monitor Township that may not have come into the area otherwise.

“Now we’re looking to put those dollars to work through a grant process,” Girard said. The details of the funding strategy have yet to be worked out, but Girard said portions of an endowment held by the BCGA will be available as grants to help spur economic growth in the community.

“We’re still working on those fine tune details, but we’re going to take a look at the assets of the organization and do a rolling average of what the fund develops in interest and take a percentage of that,” Girard said.

Trevor Keyes, President and CEO of Bay Future Inc., said he’s glad to see the Growth Alliance offer the option of grant funds.  He said currently the revolving loan funds are being used as working capital for construction, but the grants will be used to fill gaps in the infrastructure.

“Our conversation has been more project specific, but I know there’s been more interest in getting the capital the Growth Alliance and the revolving loan fund has out into the community at kind of a higher flow rate,” Keyes said, adding Bay Future has been working to open some options with the Growth Alliance to help the community.

“The Bay County Growth Alliance and the revolving loan fund have been and will continue to be a critical piece in filling gaps for companies looking to invest in growth in Bay County,” he said.

Girard said the Growth Alliance just recently approved funding for a couple of downtown projects that will help bring more people into the area.

Mike Bacigalupo, Director of the Bay County Historical Museum and Chief Operations Officer of the State Theatre, said the Growth Alliance funds will not only push two projects toward groundbreaking, but hopefully bring more people into the downtown.

“The Growth Alliance is helping out and stepping up to pave the way for some projects that are sorely needed in the downtown and to improve tourism in the area,” Bacigalupo said.

One of the projects will bring the Antique Fire Truck Museum into downtown. Currently located off the beaten path on Patterson Road in Bangor Township, the museum’s new home will be 115 Washington Ave. in an old firehouse. The new location is near the Dow Bay Area Family Y. The cost to renovate the building and get the museum moved is estimated at about $600,000, Bacigalupo said.

The Bay County Growth Alliance hopes to create a new grant fund to help pay for community projects, such as improving the band shell inside Wenonah Park.The second project is renovating the band shell at Wenonah Park. With a price-tag of $1.3 million, the Growth Alliance will help fill a gap in funding to make the project more feasible. Bacigalupo said the project has been on the back burner for some time, but plans are to take down the old roof and create a new structure.

Public art is one tool communities have to attract attention and visitors.Girard said there are opportunities for growth and development all over the county, including the downtown, the West Side and even surrounding townships. He pointed to cities like Detroit where murals are being used to draw in people. “Could we do something like that here, that would attract people to that area to shop in that area? There are opportunities out there,” he said.

Girard said in the past funding for projects came in the form of low interest participation loans from a revolving loan fund. There was a time when investors could also apply for grant funds, but over the last handful of years participation loans for commercial business became the norm. Girard said he hopes funding infrastructure projects, such as repairing sidewalks or improving accessibility, will help spur private companies to invest here.

“The more we can make the conditions favorable for somebody to take that leap and make that investment; that’s what we’re hoping to do with these dollars,” Girard said. Exactly how much money will be available is still being worked out, but Girard said he hopes to have those details nailed down in early 2020.

“It will help from a quality of life perspective, for sure,” Keyes said. “The City of Bay City and the Downtown Development Authority …  continue to invest in an asset that has produced dividends for the community and for people that are visiting our community.”