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City pushing French Quarter look for Marquette Ave

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City pushing French Quarter look for Marquette Avenue

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

By Patti Brandt

Times Writer

City planners have laid out a design to turn the Marquette Avenue business district into Bay City's French Quarter.

From potted plants to arched windows and balconies with wrought iron railings, the plan details ways to give the area a theme that will reflect its French heritage.

Jim Bedell, Bay City's planning division manager, said the plan is really just a suggestion for business owners.

"This is strictly volunteer," Bedell said. "It's a tool that's available when someone is able to remodel."

The French Colonial style as outlined in the plan features exteriors covered with stucco, wood, stone or brick, and ornate wood or wood-look French doors with sidelights and transom windows.

It also includes casement windows that open outward on hinges, sash windows with a squared or rounded upper sash, or three-sided bay windows and shutters that are large enough to cover the window when closed. Closed shutters can also be used to cover damaged windows or to create the illusion of windows where none exist.

Business owners say the idea is a good one, but finding the money to make it happen will be tough.

Steve Beson has owned and operated Beson's Party and Meat Store at 1005 Marquette Ave. for 25 years.

"The plan itself is a very good plan, but in today's economy, how are we going to allow that to happen?" Beson said.

Beson's family has been in Bay City for 90 years, and started out selling ice and milk door to door. He said it's becoming harder and harder to compete with larger, chain stores, and changing the design of his store is just not affordable.

"Until the business warrants it, as far as I'm concerned, it's a fairy tale," Beson said.

Marquette Avenue follows the Saginaw River within an area on Bay City's West Side long known to residents as the Banks area.

Though it has no well-defined boundaries, in general the Banks includes the area from the Saginaw River to Wilder Road and from State Street to the Harry S. Truman Parkway.

Mark Menerey is a repair technician at C & J Autobody, 910 Marquette Ave. The business, owned by Clifford Cunningham, has only been open for about a year.

"It's a new business we're just trying to get off the ground," Menerey said. "Money's tight. The Banks area doesn't have a lot of money."

The area lacked focus and needed some revitalization, Bedell said, and the idea for a French motif came from a community visioning workshop held last year.

About 100 people, including business owners, residents, landlords and several members from the Native American Pride Committee attended the workshop and decided the area needed an identity unique to its history, Bedell said.

"The historical aspect seemed to fit quite well because many of those buildings, if you pulled off the aluminum siding, you would find historical buildings," Bedell said.

Robert Jean is the owner of the Banks Barbershop at 1113 Marquette Ave. He added siding to the front of his building a few years ago, but otherwise has made no changes to the barbershop, which he bought in 1970.

"This has been like this for 100 years," Jean said. "We haven't changed a thing. If those windows could talk, they'd probably tell you a lot of good things." Jean said he likes the old style of the building and would like to keep it as original as possible.

"People come in here, they say, 'Oh, this looks like a barbershop,"' Jean said.

Jean's grandfather helped to settle the Banks area, and Jean himself was born just down the street.

Bedell said planners didn't want the area to be modeled after Paris, but more like the American version of Paris.

"We thought, 'Well, this is a French settlement in America. Let's look at other French settlements in America. Let's look at the architecture and let's key in on several things that are done in those areas."'

One of the most easily identifiable features of French architecture is the balcony, often with ornate iron railings and supported by columns resting on the sidewalk. Other details include bright awnings, interesting signs, gas lights, flower pots and sidewalk cafes with wrought iron tables and chairs.

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