Downtown Bay City gets a warm-up this winter with new outdoor fireplaces

“The Christmas Song” lyrics about Jack Frost nipping at your nose and folks dressed up like eskimos while gathered around a fire will come to life this winter in Downtown Bay City.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Bay Area Community Foundation’s Healthy Living Fund, two fireplaces will be installed in Downtown Bay City this month and a third fireplace will come before spring.

“It’s going to be an attraction to downtown,” says Trevor Keyes, President & CEO of Bay Future Inc. “It’s going to allow people to recreate outside longer into the season and for a longer period of time.”

The Healthy Living Fund focuses on projects that drive community recreation, Keyes says. Diane Fong, President & CEO of the Bay Area Community Foundation, explains the fund further.

"The Healthy Living Fund was established through a $1 million gift from the Dow Corning Foundation, which served as a capstone to a 37-year legacy of giving in the region to programs that promoted community well-being and quality education," Fong says.

"We believe this last act of generosity from Dow Corning will spark a sense of community as people gather round and share fireside chats."

Bay Future, the Downtown Development Authority, and Downtown Management Board applied together for the grant money. Serenus Johnson Construction is building the fireplaces. 

The initial two fireplaces will be located on the northwest corner of Center and Washington avenues and the northeast corner of Center Avenue and Water Street.

A third fireplace is planned for near the Waterfall Park at Third and Water streets, but work won’t begin until construction on a nearby business is finished, says Michael Bacigalupo, Downtown Management Board Chairman and Downtown Development Authority Vice Chairman.

The first two fireplaces are expected to be up and running in time for Santa’s Arrival on Nov. 26 in Wenonah Park. Weather conditions will determine when the third one is installed, but Bacigalupo expects it to be in place before spring.

Once they’re in, the fireplaces offer year-round entertainment. Visitors simply turn on a timer and flames rise in the gas-powered fireplaces. When the timer expires, anyone sitting nearby can turn it back on.

Nearby seating lets people bask in the the warmth while visiting with friends or taking a break from shopping, even on a cold winter day.

“Michigan used to call itself a water and winter wonderland,” Keyes recalls.

“We do a really good job on the water wonderland here in the summer. We need to start doing more things that are going to be inclusionary for people who are coming here and people who live here, for all four seasons.”

Serenus Johnson Construction President Bill Woolwine says his team is excited about the project. They are casting the concrete and coordinating all the different pieces that go into making the fireplaces attractive, functional, and safe.

“It’s pretty involved,” Woolwine says.

“We like a good challenge. We obviously like to be involved with anything that goes on in Downtown Bay City because that’s obviously our home base. Being in Bay City since 1919, it’s nice to put your mark on the downtown projects, for sure.”

Keyes points out that the fireplaces make visits to downtown throughout the winter more appealing. Already, people visit other Michigan resort communities, such as Traverse City, throughout the year. Tourism isn’t just a summer phenomenon. The fireplaces are one step toward drawing people into this community all year, he says.

“I think there are a lot of people who are going to take a lot of pleasure and joy out of this new attraction for our community,” Keyes says.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at