A quest to bring this Romanesque lady back to life

You know how people think of ships and cars as female? That’s the way I think of buildings.

So my heart was broken a year ago when I first stepped out onto the catwalk suspended three stories above Washington Avenue between the former Chemical Bank’s “cheese grater” facade and the beautiful, 1890s architecture.

All I could think about was how her original beauty, no longer valued, had been covered up and hidden away. How she hadn’t felt the sunlight on her face for over 50 years.

I know the bank’s board of directors in 1959 had the best of intentions when they chose to cover the original masonry with a contemporary metal façade. They were trying to modernize her, make her current and efficient and updated.

When I was first asked to take a look at the building, I hoped for the worst. To be honest, other developers and professionals had tried for over a year with no luck to find a use and business plan that would work. In my mind, she was too far gone. Who was I to save her? 

But I just couldn't forget about her. 

By last April, I’d decided to move ahead with the redevelopment of the once-hidden treasure we now call The Legacy. When completed in 2018, the five-story building will house 26 residential apartments and three commercial spaces at the corner of Center and Washington in downtown Bay City – her home for nearly 130 years.

My apologies for her appearance

I know many of you are tired of looking at the hodgepodge of partially removed metal facade that’s graced this building for the last six months.

But because The Legacy is located in a historic district, more than 50 years old, but  not registered individually, we had to jump through some special hoops.

The National Park Service wanted to make sure the property would contribute to the historical district and needed to review her history and relation to other downtown buildings. It was up to the National Park Service to dictate which architectural facade contributed more to the downtown: the original masonry or the metal façade?

When I received notice we’d need to remove a portion of the white façade in order to send photos to the National Park Service, one of my first thoughts was “how long before we can remove the rest?”

But redeveloping old buildings and working through incentive programs such as historic preservation take quite some time. 

In December, our renovation plans were sent off to the State Historic Preservation Office and later the National Park Service. On March 13, we received word we could begin.

The big reveal is slated for May

And while she looks rather abandoned, we’ve been busy working inside.  

Our development team signed Quinn Evans Architects, which immediately began laying out spaces for her next life. Asbestos removal inside is nearly complete.  And Spence Brothers is mobilizing an army of local subcontractors to renovate it from top to bottom.

When the rest of the facade is removed in May, I hope you’ll believe in this beauty's potential as much as we do. She’s about to undergo a major facelift. Repairing exterior masonry will be a huge job. Then we’ll need to add masonry back to the lower levels. Finally, The Legacy will have proper historic windows.

It won't happen overnight. We have a lot of work to do. 

Often there were days – and still are days – when I doubt our ability to resurrect this icon.  But the team we've assembled and the plans we’ve created are stellar. My goal is to focus on executing it to the best of my ability. It's one of the most difficult projects imaginable, given the level of interior and exterior work required to bring her back. 

But in my heart I know that one day soon she won’t be lonely any longer. Dozens of people will call her home. Her main floor will be filled with thriving businesses.

And a busy downtown corner will be restored.