Rookie developer revives automotive roots in historic downtown building

Most residents may not realize the rich roots of Bay City’s automotive industry, but this is just one of many reasons to take note of an upcoming commercial development in one of downtown’s oldest buildings. Since rookie developer, Nic Dubbs purchased The Oakland last year, the warehouse interior has served as the destination for Hell’s Half Mile music events, working spaces for local nonprofits, and 30,000 square feet of storage space for car fanatics’ summer rides.

Located at the corner of Third and Adams in downtown Bay City, The Oakland was built in 1912 by The Oakland Motor Car Company as one of the company’s original dealership. Oakland was founded in 1907 in Pontiac, MI, and was acquired by General Motors in 1909. In 1931, the company was officially renamed "Pontiac". After four years of business, the Oakland building sold to Charles Ambrose and William Mitchel of Bay City Auto Company, becoming the company’s third location. 

Nationally recognized and locally coveted, The Bay City Auto Company, now The Bay City Motor Company, was the first Cadillac dealer in the world. David Cotten, owner of TBCMC speaks of the family’s decision to plant their third location there, “The building was made to showcase and sell cars in, and the company was growing. It just made sense!” They continued doing business there through 1979. At that time, it was the oldest Cadillac dealer in the country and the last independent Cadillac distributorship in the world.

A Flint native, Dubbs moved to Bay City eight years ago for an opportunity in the automotive industry. We sat down with him for the insider’s look at what the future holds for The Oakland.

Route: What is your vision for the building?

I would like a commercial and residential space that’s in line with the growth of Bay City, while preserving its historic position. I’d love to do a car dealership specializing in the classics, exotics, unique, strange and everything in between. The showroom on the first floor has 2500 square feet of original terrazzo flooring that I’ll utilize. Currently there are newly remodeled commercial spaces for any professional company. My next goal is four spacious and affordable 2-bedroom lofts. The interior has an industrial-modern feel with tall ceilings, natural light from large windows, and exposed piping. Providing aesthetic, thoughtfully designed spaces is an important part of motivating professionals to stay in or come to the area.

What inspired you to take on this particular project?

The age of the building and its history being one of the first Oakland dealerships. Cars have been a huge influence in my life. I grew up going to the auto shows with my family. My dad has worked in the automotive industry my entire life. Simply put, cars provide the ability to travel on your own. Beyond that, the automobile industry drives our economy in so many ways. These have always been very important things to me, so it made sense when they all culminated into one space.

Awesome! Any surprises that came with buying a building this old?

When I purchased, the entire building was on the verge of blight. It was purchased with a cumbersome Department of Environmental Quality restrictive covenant. I’ve been working with the DEQ to lift the residential zoning restriction, being that it’s the first time ever that this address has been zoned as residential. My air remediation system has a decade of clean air testing with no trace of contaminants, so we’re in the process of proposing a revision to lift the residential zoning restriction. 

You’re using all Bay City companies for your project. Why is it important to you that you stay local?

I want to keep the money local. There’s no reason to outsource when there are companies to use in our front yard. So far, I’m using Accent Building Corp., 989Design, Dale’s Plumbing and Heating, Supreme Flooring, Klender Design, and Groya Plumbing and Heating.

It looks like there’s construction underway out front. What is your reason for adding a new facade to the building?

The old one was derelict. Beyond that, I wanted the contrast. Something that stated it’s new, it’s back alive again, and that it’s in line with the direction of downtown Bay City.  

Accent Builders has provided a majority of the services done to the renovation so far, including the facade. Owner Doug Sommer specializes in large scale commercial projects as well as residential. 

Sommer speaks on the challenges the team overcame in designing and installing the concrete facade: “There’s quite a bit we had to strip out and parts of it were completely reframed. We worked closely with the manufacturer to get the right material and architecture drawn up. We cut each piece to size on site, stained them various shades of blue, and placed them according to design. The manufacturer was a bit difficult. Once we overcame that hurdle it’s been a relatively straightforward project.”

You’ve taken on a large project as your first at-bat. Any advice you’d give to aspiring developers in the area? 

Just do it! Take the risk. Think less and do more. It’s the perfect size town with tons of history, the people are great, and it’s so affordable. We have so much to offer with our waterfront, mom & pop shops, and new eateries coming down the pipeline. Now is the time to start!

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