Facade grant program improves downtown buildings, preserves history, and could boost the economy

Four buildings in Downtown Bay City got a new look, with the help of Facade Improvement grants. City and downtown officials hope to improve the appearance of even more buildings in 2022.

Downtown Development Authority Board member Mike Bacigalupo wrote a 2021 grant that secured $25,000 through Bay County Growth Alliance. In November, funds for the 2022 program were approved.

In 2021, four building improvement projects benefited from Growth Alliance grant, including Drift at 1019 Water St.; M-2 Barbecue at 207 Center Ave.; the Tanner Building at 109 Center Ave.; and the former Allen Shoe building at 700 Washington Ave. For the Allen Shoe project, the workers removed an extensive metal facade from the front of the building.

Bacigalupo says the 2021 projects added visual appeal to the downtown and he’s hoping to see that happen again in Round Two.

Kellie Rupp, Events and Marketing Specialist for Downtown Bay City, says the improvements were a significant upgrade.
 
Bay Future put in a proposal for a citywide facade improvement program in May as part of the American Rescue Plan Act proposals.
“Unless you go to that business every day, you don’t realize how much even a small improvement can do,” Rupp says. “Like the awnings on the Tanner Building, you may not have noticed how faded and worn they were, but now that they’ve replaced the awnings, it really cleaned the building right up.”

The Tanner Building is home to Mulligans Pub. Rupp says though it was a smaller project, replacing the awnings had an eye-popping effect.

“The green awnings were falling apart and weren’t looking too good,” she says.
Bay Future Inc. President & CEO Trevor Keyes says the facade improvement grants have a double benefit.

“Yes, part of it is about bringing it back to its original luster,” Keyes said. “The other part of it was to incentivize the property owners to undertake those exterior property improvements that would lead to better utilization of properties, and to support those projects that would move the needle toward a more vibrant downtown.”

He hopes improving the aesthetics of the downtown buildings will inspire new businesses to consider this area.

“The hope is then that those properties see less vacancies and more traffic,” he says. “Most of the growth we’re seeing in downtown comes from the pockets of private individuals and being able to support them in doing so is going to continue to have a positive ripple effect.”

Not only are more downtown property owners interested in the facade improvement grants, but Keyes says business owners in other parts of the city are hoping to get help with their projects as well.

He says there are no other grants available within the city now, but Bay Future put in a proposal for a citywide facade improvement program in May as part of the American Rescue Plan Act proposals.

The American Rescue Plan Act awarded $31 million to the City of Bay City and another $20 million to Bay County. Keyes says both the city and the county are deciding how to distribute those funds.

The 2021 grants for the downtown area paid for up to $10,000 per project. Property owners also had to pay some of the costs. For example, removing the old facade at 700 Washington Ave. cost nearly $20,000. The grant paid for $9,600, or about half.

Grant funds haven’t been released for 2022 yet, but Bacigalupo says he’s looking forward to seeing what businesses will propose for the money. “Any facade that needs to be improved, we would love to help them. It’s a facelift as minor as an awning or a full facade.”

Last year’s grant process was competitive, with applicants being scored according to set criteria, Rupp says. “We’re going to meet in early January 2022 to see if the grant application will be the same, or if (we should) do the process any different,” she says.

A committee made up of members of the Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors and city staff reviewed the 2021 applications.

Members of the committee are Ashley Anderson from Two Men & A Truck; Mike Bacigalupo from State Theatre; Jean Ann DeShano from Re/Max Results; Jeff Staudacher from Edward Jones; Trevor Keyes from Bay Future, Inc.; and Sara Dimitroff and Terry Moultane from the City of Bay City.

Both Bacigalupo and Rupp say they can think of a number of facade projects downtown worth backing. It’s just a matter of matching the funds to the project.

“We’re going to try to make it an ongoing project if we can,” Bacigalupo says.