Growth is in the forecast for Bay City economy

Economic Development Project Manager Sara Dimitroff has been with the city since 2011. The City of Bay City Economic Development Department provides assistance to developers, businesses and neighborhoods in Bay City. It’s the job of Dimitroff and her staff to have the answers developers need.

Route: What does an Economic Development Project manager do?

Our job is is to be the first line when a developer comes into Bay City and say “We want to do this development.” We take them in and say “OK, here are the steps you’re going to need to take.” We help with every part of the project. We review their plans, coordinate meetings with stakeholders, help secure grants, help with licensing requirements, and serve as liaisons between developers, builders, and the city. It’s basically taking the developer from start to finish. We also market city-owned sites to prospective developers.

What is happening right now with economic development in the city?

There’s a lot of things. We’re on an upward trajectory. We got hit pretty hard in 2008, as a lot of cities did. We saw an incredible stall in economic development. But we are definitely on an upward trajectory and we have a lot going on right now, from small businesses moving into multimillion-dollar renovation projects. We’re seeing both new businesses and expanding businesses.

What are the highlights of projects in the last 5 to 10 years?

Uptown Bay City is the biggest one. We have an over $150 million capital investment from the developer already in Phase 1. We’re currently working on Phase 2. Right out of the gates in Phase 2, they are investing approximately $16 million. Eventually, they will invest even more. The city believed in that project so much that we have bonded $17 million for infrastructure for the project and we’re looking to bond another $6 million to make this project work. The bonds paid for streets, lights, and everything that goes under the ground. The developer will pay that back to the city through taxes. The developer is not getting any reduction in taxes. A portion of the taxes will pay off the debt to build the infrastructure. Nothing, not one dollar, has come out of the city’s pocket for that.

The Mill End Lofts was an $8.5 million mixed-use project with apartments and commercial space. The Legacy just was completed. That beautiful Chemical Bank building was an $11 million mixed-use project to create apartments and retail space. Landaal Packaging Systems built a $5 million addition in 2014. The Comfort Inn -- the former Holiday Inn -- did a $6.7 million renovation. The LaPorte Building is investing $630,000 on a renovation. We also have applied for three grants to clean up underground storage tanks at three former gas stations so those sites can be re-used.

What projects are coming up?

We talked about Uptown Phase 2, so that’s definitely one of them. The other one is the North and Stein Project at the former Atrium restaurant and Stein House pub. We’re still working through some of the nuts and bolts of that before the North Peak Brewing Company can get started. That’s about an $8 million investment that’s coming to downtown. Then there are a couple of other things we can’t talk about yet. A lot of things are happening behind the scenes.

What challenges does Bay City face in terms of economic development?

Lack of funding always seems to be the biggest thing. When developers come to us, they want financial assistance and we just don’t have the ability to assist them with the money upfront. We have tax abatements, but, currently, there is no money to help with upfront costs. We have worked with the state a little bit and they’ve come up with some really good programs. We are internally working on some funds that we can loan out for Baseline Environmental Assessments and other documents that need to be in place before a project begins. We’re also always working on our internal processes. We’re working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to earn a certification as a Redevelopment Ready Community (RRC.) We’re in the process of getting our processes completely in line so when a developer comes in, it is a smooth transition. This is a way for us to get our processes in place and make everything more efficient to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.

What are the city’s strengths?

Our sense of community is a wonderful asset. For better or for worse, I think a lot of people want to hold onto what we’ve been in the past. I respect that 100% because I’ve lived here my entire life. At the same time, we have so much happening. We can be so much better than we’ve been in the past. We’ve transitioned from industrial and manufacturing on the riverfront to living space and mixed use. That’s where we want to go. Obviously, our river is one of another one of our strengths. We have amazing things happening in our city because we have our river. The Bay City River Roar is coming back. The Tall Ship Celebration is coming this year. The Bay City Fireworks Festival happens every year. We have some really great folks who have invested a lot in our city and really believe in our city. It’s important to have that. It’s not always about investing dollars. It’s investing time too, whether you’re sitting on a board and making things happen or being a part of our city-wide cleanup. People here really come out in droves to help and I think that’s huge.

What is the city is doing to attract development and investment in the area? 

As I spoke earlier, the Redevelopment Ready Certification is going to help us in a lot of different ways. It gets our processes in line so it tells people we are ready for you. Come see us. We also have vacant buildings and land in the city that the state will help us market. They can reach further than we could ever reach. They can also match dollars for us to pay for certain things, such as consultants. There’s a lot of benefits to being certified. I really think once a developer sees that we are ready, that’s really going to help them say Bay City is definitely a place I want to look at.

What can other businesses or individuals do to support economic development?

We want to make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Remember that game telephone? Where you hear something and it gets incredibly distorted as it goes around the circle? I tell people if you hear someone saying “Hey, I heard this ..” don’t take that as gospel. Call me. If I can’t help you, then I will find someone who can. We really are here to help. Especially in my position, I’m here to make sure our city is successful. I can’t do that if we have negative things being said that aren’t true. We want people to feel comfortable asking us questions.

If you live in Bay City and somebody asks what’s happening, I want you to tell them about all the great things we have happening. I want you to say that Tall Ships is coming this summer and we have our great Fireworks Festival. River Roar is back. We have the pavilion now. People sled at Vets Park. I want you to tell others about all the wonderful things we have in our city.

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