Mother Nature inspires business district

While Bay City’s downtown continues to evolve and move forward in new ways – the Uptown district is proof of that - another neighborhood and business district is ready for a revival of its own.

But maybe not in the way that you’d think.

Business owners and others in the Salzburg Avenue area on the city’s west side hope to make their neighborhood a destination without building new restaurants and opening trendy bars. Instead, they want to take advantage of the great outdoors.

The Float Paddle Center sits near walking and biking trails along the Saginaw River, but also near a business district filled with stores and offices.With the recent opening of the Float Paddle Center, a kayak and water sports rental business, and a disc golf course in the works, they’re making big strides in that direction. There’s also talk of building a climbing wall in the area in the future.

It stems, in part, from research that showed a positive trend for not only waterfront recreation, but the outdoors recreation market as a whole.

Kristi Kozubal, co-owner of the Float Paddle Center with her husband, Rick Learman, worked with Jonathan Jarosz, of the Heart of the Lakes environmental association, to gather data for a presentation at the Bay City Yacht Club. Their research showed a noticeable, upward trend in waterfront recreation nationwide.

Given Bay City’s access to the Saginaw Bay and the Saginaw River, Kozubal envisioned a paddle center that would help meet the demand of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. According to Kozubal, it only made sense considering the data.

“Once we looked at the research it became pretty clear,” she said, “and an important aspect of it is how to engage millennials. (The data) showed that millennials want more outdoor recreation activities. Those should be made available in a city like Bay City.”

Kozubal said paddle sports are also trending upward and have grown in double digits over the past few years.

“The demand to get on the water is huge,” she said.

Business owners and others are taking steps to transform the Salzburg Avenue area into a destination for people seeking outdoor recreation opportunities.Recently-released statistics by the federal government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis confirms the research of Kozubal and others, including growth in Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry that’s in line with growth nationwide.

Research by the BEA showed that outdoor recreation contributes $10 billion annually to Michigan’s economy, and that 2% of the state’s economy is tied to the industry. Michigan ranks 13th nationally in the total value of outdoor recreation industries.

The Float Paddle Center, located at 110 Salzburg Ave., could be the start of something bigger for the area’s business district and the neighborhood, one that takes advantage of Saginaw River access and other outdoor opportunities.

Construction of a new section of the Bay County Riverwalk Trail System that connects the Hotchkiss Road trailhead to Salzburg Avenue began this summer. The section is slated to open this fall and will feature a kiosk located near Ray’s Bike Shop and Ideal Party Store along Salzburg that includes information such as maps of the Rail Trail.

With a new kayak and water sports rental business open and a group making plans for a disc golf course, the Salzburg Avenue business district could become a destination for outdoor recreation.The district is getting attention from others in the community. Chris Girard is part of a group that plans to open a disc golf course in Putz Park near the Float Paddle Center. 

"With the Float Paddle Center, Ray’s Bike Shop, and the trails there are a lot of great activities available in the area,” Girard said. “The question is how we market that corridor for recreational activities, which needs to discussed, definitely.”

The group has started private fund-raising efforts and hopes to open the course in the spring. Girard said he expects the cost of opening the course to be in the $9,000 to $10,000 range.

“I think there’s a pent-up demand for disc golf locally,” Girard said. “Surveys we’ve done show that it’s very high on the list of activities people wished were in the area.”

One significant obstacle standing in the way of potential activity in the Salzburg district is construction on the Lafayette Bridge, including the replacement of the Lafayette Bascule Bridge on the east side of the Middlegrounds.

Developing recreation opportunities in the Salzburg Avenue area could open people's eyes to the Saginaw River's potential.The Lafayette Bridge spans the Saginaw River and connects the Salzburg area with Bay City’s east side. Construction on it begins in 2020 and is expected to last at least a year, and perhaps until 2022.

“The impact of that is to be determined,” Girard said. “It could have a major impact over two years and that’s why we need to do planning now to see how we can get through it.

“Anything that we can do to make it more of a destination area now has to help.”

Kozubal, meanwhile, thinks the Float Paddle Center will help bring people to the area who might not otherwise visit it, or even know much about it. She also hopes to help people understand that there’s more waterfront access in Bay City than they think.

“The demand to get on the water is huge but a problem that always comes up is access,” she said. “People say they want boat rentals, canoe rentals, better access to the bay, you name it.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that much of the waterfront is public and you can access it from there. It’s difficult for boaters unless they have a launch of some sort, but you can put a kayak in anywhere. You don’t need permission as long as there’s public access.”

Cars drive past one side of the Float Paddle Center, but a grass- and tree-filled park leads to the Saginaw River on the other side of the building, located in the Salzburg Avenue business corridor.Kozubal says the Saginaw River’s reputation also inhibits many people from taking advantage of waterfront opportunities.

“For a long time it was considered atrocious because of pollution but it’s a reputation that’s continued even after the state took measures to monitor and clean it,” she said. “The gist is, you can prove that conditions in the river are considerably healthier than they once were.”

For Kozubal, changing perceptions and opening up the area to outdoor enthusiasts are worthy goals that can help it thrive in the future.

“The Salzburg corridor is ripe to be a destination for outdoor enthusiasts,” she said, “and it already has a lot of free opportunities people may not know about.

“The important thing is that we’ll have to work together as a community to make things happen. I don’t think it would take that long.”

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