City Council Hopeful Bill Ostash Talks Rebirth of Saginaw’s Downtown

Ostash Could Become the First Openly Gay Member of the Saginaw City Council

By |2018-10-18T10:20:05-04:00October 17th, 2018|Election, Election 2018, LGBTQA Races, Michigan, News|

Saginaw City Council hopeful Bill Ostash likens the city’s blueprint to a donut.
At its core, Ostash said Saginaw is lacking in terms of its development. Building up the city’s urban core is essential to creating a strong, vibrant community, he believes, and a top priority for him if elected to the Saginaw City Council this November.
As a chair on the city’s Historic District Commission, Ostash has worked for years to strengthen Saginaw’s downtown area through the rehabilitation of old buildings, businesses and homes. He says that Saginaw, like Detroit and Flint, is “on the verge” in terms of development, and firmly believes in the untapped potential in structures that others would have demolished.
In a 2014 study published by 24/7 Wall St., Saginaw tied with Ohio’s Youngstown as the 10th fastest-shrinking community in the nation.
“What I’m bringing is my experience being on the Historic District Commission for the last 12 years, including my time as a chair,” he said. “That gave me the knowledge of how preservation works, how the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is involved, and how other cities are trying to save structures.”
A lifelong resident of the Great Lakes Bay Region, Ostash attended Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University where he earned his BS in Computer Science with a minor in Management. Ostash has served as the lead of Programming Tech at Dow Chemical Employees’ Credit Union since 2012.
Outside the computer science field, Ostash has built a reputation for himself around Saginaw’s historic preservation efforts. Perhaps his most notable project is the Wolfarth home, an 1893 Queen Anne Victorian home built by a Saginaw family who ran the largest steam bakery in Michigan.
Ostash currently lives in the 3,711 square-foot home with his partner Kevin Rooker, who purchased it back in 1992. The couple’s renovation efforts – roof repairs, landscaping, restored gas fixtures, new garage, paint job, etc. – kicked into high gear when Ostash moved in with Kevin in 2012.
“After restoring the house, we debunked the myth that it would take a million dollars to renovate,” Ostash said. “The house gives you an idea of what can be done for hundreds of thousands of dollars less.”
Ostash worked behind the scenes in 2016 to help save the Charles Lee Mansion, a 144-year-old lumber baron mansion located at the edge of Saginaw’s downtown. Many in the community simply call it the “cat lady house,” as its former owner was known for walking a 3-foot-tall pet leopard named Chii-Chu around the neighborhood.
“I was able to make connections and brainstorm ideas based on my experience with preservation and entities I have collaborated with,” Ostash said about the effort. “The Lee Mansion is the last lumber mill home in the city where the mills stood in the backyard area on the Saginaw River.”
There’s a number of other projects he hopes to take on, including efforts to restore America’s largest neon sign in Saginaw and find someone to repurpose the historic Mason Building (the oldest building in Downtown Saginaw).
At the moment, Ostash is in the process of working with a developer to repurpose a 1920s apartment building in the Cathedral District. “It still has much of the original architecture and ornate material making up its charm,” he said. “The plan submitted to the city is to repurpose, renovate and turn it into a 10-unit condo building with gathering areas and a rooftop deck for entertaining.”
He hopes to introduce a program to help renovate/redevelop structures in Saginaw if elected to city council. “I’d like to put together a program, like in Grand Rapids, where you look for buildings that are in need of repair. You find a way to fund the project. Once the project is done there is an agreement to repay the source that funded the project.”
Ostash speaks fondly of Saginaw’s downtown area. What attracts him most to the area is its diverse urban community, where the establishments are “very open and LGBT friendly.” In all the places he visits, he said bartenders greet you with a hug, not a handshake.
“In old town, no one really seems to care,” he said.
He adds that many outsiders have the wrong perception of the area. “Saginaw has had a bad reputation, but it’s better,” he said. “Crime is down, but people say they’d never go to the city because they feel it’s dangerous. When you follow up, it’s not what people think it is. We are in a time where this is more development in our city than it has seen in the last 50 years.”
Redeveloping the area into a space people can feel safe walking down the street is another top priority for Ostash. He said it’s important now more than ever to make sure police and fire in the city continue to be funded.
“Governor Snyder said he’d make sure troubled cities have police protection when he campaigned,” Ostash said. “Saginaw, Pontiac, Detroit and Flint were cities he focused on. When Whitmer and Abdul ran in the primary for governor this year I told them we need to keep this program.”
“Saginaw has recovered a lot, but not enough financially the point this program could be pulled.”
Ostash confirms that he would be the first openly gay member to ever serve on the Saginaw City Council if elected, though it’s not his intention for running. “I think I’ve got a very progressive-thinking mind. That’s what happening now with the candidates here, there’s more opportunity for the city.”
“I’ve never experience such a passion to bring the city back … I’m just a variable making it happen.”
Follow Bill Ostash online at facebook.com/OstashForSaginawCityCouncil/.

About the Author:

Drew Howard
Drew Howard graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2017 with a B.S. in multimedia journalism. His work has been featured in Gazette Media, Forbes, LearnVest and NPR station WDET 101.9.