What a difference a day makes. That’s always an apt phrase as we close out another arbitrary collection of 365 days. Humanity has agreed that marking the difference between December 31 and January 1 is a good way to put a stake in the ground and document history.
An article like this, which is a “review” of the last 12 months is more like a semi-colon than a period when it comes to writing history. It’s pretty likely, however, that the “difference” axiom holds up over the long term when writing the story of 2023 in Bay City.
Friday, June 16 probably sounds pretty innocuous to most people living in the area, until you mention this was the day that tolling began on Liberty Bridge in Downtown Bay City. It’s the culmination of a decades long issue in which the City and the current Commission found themselves in a corner created by the costs of maintaining two City owned drawbridges, combined with a road and bridge funding formula that is inarguably broken at the State and Federal level, and years of local inaction that “kicked the can down the road.”
As is well known at this point, the City entered into agreement with the newly created Bay City Bridge Partners. The City maintains ownership of the Liberty and Independence bridges, but is leasing them to the privately held company. In return for the right to charge tolls on both bridges, the company is renovating and will maintain and operate the bridges for the duration of the agreement.
Despite the best efforts of Bay City Bridge Partners to market Liberty Bridge as the most enjoyable option for crossing the river, it’s fair to say the reaction from local residents and visitors to the City range from ambivalent to apoplectic.
While people do not seem to be adopting Liberty Bridge as an entertainment option, they are feeling the noticeable impact on traffic patterns on a radius extending out to Euclid Ave or and Salzburg / Lafayette. Downtown merchants now regularly hear concerns from visitors and shoppers about potential tolls or their trouble navigating the long term project of inventing new traffic patterns on the “stroad” that is the Washington Ave / Garfield Rd corridor.
In all fairness to that June date, if this piece was being written in September or October, the story of the year would have been how big events were back in Bay City. With Covid now apparently relegated to a standard public health threat, the City returned to what it does best - pitching a tent and throwing a show. Many of these centered around the newly renovated Band Shell at Wenonah Park.
Big name acts graced local stages this year, attracting huge crowds. There was something for almost everyone, as name brand talent like Joan Jett, Nelly and Rick Springfield came to town. The professional bass fishing circuit held a tournament here. All of this was in addition to the traditional local festivals and fundraisers that mark the calendar every year.
But then we come to the second “day” in 2023, November 1.
This is the day Mlive broke the story that long time executive for the State Theater, Mike Bacigalupo. had been relieved of his duties as an Events Coordinator for the City. This was followed in short succession with the news that other organizations in the area had also severed their relationship with Bacigalupo, one of Bay City’s most prominent citizens and a person with a lot of claim to the successes of the aforementioned events, the park renovation and, of course, the State Theater.
The stories were also the first time that many in the area had ever heard of a number of local organizations and “benevolence societies” that are involved in funding many large local projects and events..
It’s a reasonable assessment that the various individuals, organizations and government entities have tried to temper coverage of this story through a series of “No Comment” responses to local media or vaguely worded statements promising the fortitude to weather this storm.
Some of this is understandable, as there may be perfectly legitimate reasons why someone can’t legally or ethically say anything. The problem is - as we all know - an information vacuum fills itself with rumor and innuendo.
Now we are left to wonder if this is a situation where someone with a long and successful track record suddenly went rogue, or if there is more blame to share amongst the various players who were jointly responsible for keeping all of this on the rails.
Until more transparency is established and better explanations offered, it is going to bring into question the roles of many of these local groups, many of which seem to share membership, leadership and, in some instances, appear to financially support each other’s activities.
It’s a situation that has required City Commissioner and reportedly mayoral hopeful Chris Girard to explain why the Bay County Growth Alliance, of which he is President, underwrote an $800,000 mortgage to the State Theater without enough context for the average citizen to decide if this was a reasonable investment.
Here’s another problem as we go to press and the whole issue takes a siesta for the Holiday period. It’s honestly the elephant in the room. Many people in the local music and arts communities don’t seem that surprised with the recent turn of events. These aren’t generally important people, but they have enough interaction with the individuals and entities involved to have their own context. And in many instances they have their own first-person experiences to add to it.
It’s probably the biggest question in Bay City as we roll up this year and as this story creeps into next year.
Why didn’t the people who are the real decision makers in this town - elected, appointed or hired; government, non-profit or private sector - have any inkling of these problems when a bunch of creatives and guitar players seemed to have a pretty good take on the “good ole boys and glad handers” that typically run things?
Makes you wonder if it may have been Bay City that Bono was singing about when he cried out “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”
To be continued in 2024.
Editor's Note: Since we published this piece on December 14th, investigative journalist Anita Marie Senkowski published this piece on December 19th raising more questions about how large the unsecured liabilities on The State Theatre may actually be. You can read her dispatch by clicking this link.
Here is the latest dispatch from investigative journalist Anita Senkowski on former exeuctive Mike Bacigalupo and the State Theatre's financial controversies in the aftermath of his departure.
9th February, 2024