The Bay City Road Corridor: Looking back and thinking ahead

Costco has been on Bay City Road for over one year now, attracting shoppers from all over the region. With this retail giant moving in, we’re wondering, how might this corridor change in the next decade?

"The goal of the city is to really add value and improve that part of the community.”A decade ago, Bay City Road had several vacant lots. Besides the Civic Arena, County Jail, and Valley Plaza, the area was largely undeveloped. There have been traffic changes too, like the closure of Saginaw Road south of Bay City Road, which at one point, was a pair of one-ways that led into downtown.

“I think all of that [change] has certainly created some evolution that needs some intentionality around how we plan and zone and encourage different kinds of development out there,” says Grant Murschel, director of planning and community development for the City of Midland.

Nicole Wilson, vice president of economic development at the Midland Business Alliance (MBA), reflects on how the corridor has changed.

"With Waldo Plaza being built there and having open available retail, it offers that opportunity to serve the neighborhood again.”“Bay City Road is unique. It had a very full life prior to when the Dow gates were over on that side,” says Wilson. “It used to be that there were smaller format retail spaces. … With Waldo Plaza being built there and having open available retail, it offers that opportunity to serve the neighborhood again.”

Down the road is Valley Plaza, which used to be entirely owned by the Rapanos family until 2008, when it was sold to an investment group. Now, Christine Rapanos oversees the Great Hall Banquet & Conference Center.

Christine Rapanos, who oversees the Great Hall Banquet & Conference Center at Valley Plaza, played a major role in convincing Costco to move into the area.“I think as a community, we should be supporting Costco and any new development because it’s just going to make us bigger and more attractive to be here,” says Rapanos.

For 15 years, Rapanos had been trying to draw Costco into the area to spur development. 

“Costco actually was not interested in Midland,” says Rapanos, recalling her interactions when she first reached out. “... They were taking a chance on this site with the small demographics. I had been telling them they were underestimating this area.”

Part of the draw for Costco was the proximity to a highway with a full interchange — most of the land it was built on was donated by Christine’s father, Nick Rapanos. Another draw was Midland’s educational attainment, which usually leads to more disposable income, according to Wilson.

Part of the draw for Costco was the proximity to a highway with a full interchange — most of the land it was built on was donated by Christine’s father, Nick Rapanos."Midland has been and continues to be an excellent location for Costco Wholesale," says Mark Zuerner, warehouse manager at Costco in Midland. "We are seeing growth in our business and look forward to continued success in the area. Many of our members come from the Great Lakes Bay Region, and even beyond, so our employees work hard every day to meet and exceed the expectations of our membership base."

As momentum for future development builds, Murschel expects to see additional restaurants or fast food options move into the corridor. If that does happen, he says the city is planning to avoid the issues on Eastman and South Saginaw Road, where there are too many driveways in too short of a distance.

“Maintaining Bay City road as a good thru-street is going to be very important for the community, so access management from a vehicle and driveway perspective is something the city is paying very close attention to,” says Murschel.  “But also connectivity from a variety of modes of transportation. I think we have opportunities to invest in better non-motorized connections for people to bike and walk, and also multi-use pathways that could possibly facilitate the e-scooters too.”

Bay City Road transitions from an industrial area into residential neighborhoods.Murschel envisions the area having a “nice mixture of uses” with the high-tech industry of Savant Group also moving in, and the entertainment of Valley Plaza. Then, there’s the residential areas.

“From the city’s perspective, we’re very much wanting to make sure that we think about that whole area cohesively and provide the right kind of connections and the right kind of uses that benefit that area as well as the rest of the city,” says Murschel. “There’s a lot of people and businesses that have been in that area for many, many years. The goal of the city is to really add value and improve that part of the community.”

Wilson says that when a larger-scale commercial operation like Costco goes in, it has a drawing effect, and site selectors start talking.

“I think as a community, we should be supporting Costco and any new development because it’s just going to make us bigger and more attractive to be here."“It’ll be fun to watch how that [area] develops,” says Wilson, “specifically following a Costco development in an area like ours, where it isn’t as highly dense of an environment, you’ll see that development happen 5-10 years after a Costco goes in. 

How the Midland Business Alliance attracts and supports our businesses 

In terms of business attraction, MBA focuses largely on traded sector industries. For Midland County, that’s 1) Chemical production, research and development, 2) Health care services, support and technology, 3) Food production technology, processing and distribution, and 4) Technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. 

“The reason economic development focuses on those traded sector businesses is because they’re typically higher rates of pay, longer-term, or opportunity for career growth for an individual, and just provide a larger number of jobs,” says Wilson. “That’s not to say that consumer, retail, and that sort of thing don’t — because that’s not the case at all — but just longevity in those careers is a little bit different.”

Bay City Road has seen many traffic changes over the years.MBA works with site selectors to find lots that fit their criteria, which ranges from traffic counts, population, or educational attainment, for example. 

“Our site selection professionals do a really good job of knowing what’s new and what’s next,” says Wilson. “They pay very close attention to the metrics of a community.”

Wilson is seeing fewer retail requests as a result of the pandemic. Although, there’s been an uptick in interest in the supply chain facilities.

In terms of business attraction, MBA focuses largely on traded sector industries.“With the shift in industry to make supply chains visible and reliable, there’s some level of reshoring happening, where companies are looking to have duplicate facilities to be able to ensure supply chain,” she says.

However, Wilson emphasizes, “Growth really primarily comes from expansion and growth of existing businesses, much more so than attraction. … We like to encourage those who love where they live and love where they operate to grow, and [we] certainly support them in those operations.”

For example, the MBA can help envision what moving into a brick-and-mortar space would look like. They can break down parking and zoning concerns, look into tax incentives, grants or loans, and even help develop a pro forma — a standardized document with financial projections.

“We’re problem solvers and we’re navigators through that system,” says Wilson. “Midland Business Alliance through Economic Development also supports innovation, and so in that vein, as they’re (businesses) looking to expand, we’re connecting them to places like CMURC (Central Michigan University Research Corporation) and the SBDC (Small Business Development Center). We work closely with both of those organizations to identify funding sources or capital investments to support that growth.” 

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.