Midland Street business owners plan to revitalize the district as a regional entertainment hub

When Kevin Novellino looks out the front window of his restaurant, Brooklyn Boyz, he doesn’t see the slushy spring snow.

Instead, he looks into the future and envisions murals and art decorating fences designed to block Midland Street traffic. He imagines people gathering together to eat and drink at outdoor tables that dot the street while live music fills the air.

Novellino encourages people to visit Midland Street businesses and post photos on social media with the hashtag, #MeetMeOnMidlandStreetIn the summer of 2020, Bay City closed several streets in Downtown Bay City and in the Midland Street entertainment district to allow restaurants to serve outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was called Feet on the Street.

Now, Novellino and other businesses in the Midland Street district want to build on the successes of 2020. They hope to offer more events, specials, and concerts in 2021.

City Manager Dana Muscott says the City Commission expects to re-visit Feet on the Street this month and consider whether to continue it in 2021. Before making a decision, Muscott says the city wants to talk to business owners in the districts and find out if there were concerns.

Midland Street has long had a reputation as a nightspot for adults, but Novellino hopes to expand this summer to include events highlighting the retail businesses and professional offices in the district.From her perspective, the program was largely a success.

“I think it was a huge success for Bay City,” Muscott says. “People traveled to our area from other areas, which I thought was pretty cool.”

While Novellino is eager to see the Feet on the Street program continue, he’s not waiting for the City Commission to make its decision. Novellino has launched a hashtag, #MeetMeOnMidlandStreet, with a matching Facebook page. He hopes to eventually launch a website at meetmeonmidlandst.com

COVID-19 restrictions have forced eateries to limit their capacity. In 2020, the city allowed restaurants to set up tables outside to expand their capacity.“It’s basically a website that will be representing the businesses on the street, the events on the street, and telling the stories of the businesses,” Novellino says.

 The first #MeetMeOnMidlandStreet event is Fish Fry Fridays.

Novellino, whose eatery is at 507 E. Midland St., says Fish Fry Fridays launched Feb. 19, which was the first Friday in Lent. Novellino expects to continue the Fish Fry Fridays throughout the year. He chose fish fries to tie in with the maritime heritage of the district, which includes Liberty Harbor Marina, 215 John F. Kennedy Drive, and Pier 7 Marina, 963 E. Midland St. He also wanted to start #MeetMeOnMidlandStreet with a family-friendly option.

In 2021, Midland Street is debuting a Fish Fry Friday promotion.“Our street was always known for music and bars, obviously, but we transitioned to more feeding people here,” Novellino explains.

“Midland Street is a place where a lot of people come to eat. At the bottom of our street is a river that leads to the bay. There are two marinas. Why not make this the place where people come from all over the state to get fish dinners on Friday nights? That message of fish and music I thought was a good theme to rally us together.”

The City Commission is discussing closing some city streets again in 2021 to allow outdoor dining.The Facebook page also lists all the businesses in the district – not just the bars and restaurants. The district is home to professional offices, a miniature golf course, a credit union, medical offices, and more.

“There’s always been this underlying theme in the past about a lack of solidarity among the businesses,” Novellino says. “We’re starting with fish fries to give us a voice and build solidarity.”

He expects it to grow from there.

“For 30 years, we were the premier entertainment district in the Mid-Michigan area and we’re going to re-capture that,” Novellino says.

Last summer, Jay Samborn Entertainment, 109 N. Linn St., and the Midland Street Business District put on concerts in the street for 10 consecutive weekends. Novellino hopes to build on that and announce a list of summer events soon.

Midland Street businesses already have a reputation for serving food. In 2021, though, the district hopes to expand that reputation to include events for a range of ages.When that list is released, Novellino says you can expect to find more than night-time concerts.

“We’re a useful district,” he says. “The (Unclaimed Freight Ace) Hardware store makes our neighborhood useful. What makes it interesting? All that we have to offer. What makes it safe? The people who come here and the public safety people. People can come here and enjoy themselves.”

Novellino hopes to promote the idea of the district as a useful place through placemaking, which means strengthening public spaces so they maximize shared value.

“It’s placemaking,” Novellino says. “You can do events that gather people, but if you don’t tell the story these days about the people who are gathering and the people who put these events on,” it won’t work. “That’s why #MeetMeOnMidlandStreet is going to be so important, so I can tell the stories.”

Those stories will come from all kinds of different businesses in the district.

“We want to bring everybody into the fold – the hardware store, the bookstore, the attorneys, the architects, the engineers, the insurance brokers. It’s a great story.”