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Another Look at the Proposed Urban Market – Part II

May 10, 2010

Last month we posted a story that took a critical look at the downtown “urban market” that has been proposed by Grand Action. Since then there has been additional news coverage of the Grand Action plan and some community discussion.

In this article we will look at a recent community meeting on the topic, additional news coverage and some power analysis by looking more closely at whom Grand Action is comprised of.

Public Dialogue

Because this project has raised some red flags for people who do justice work, a meeting was hosted by Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen with the intent of trying to provide some answers to questions people in the community have about the project.

Members of Our Kitchen Table, community organizers and a few residents from the near Southeast part of Grand Rapids came together to ask questions. Commissioner Talen was upfront with those in attendance by saying that Grand Action was a group of “rich white guys” who have vested economic interests. The commissioner also said that even though Grand Action has been working on this proposal for two years there are things that they would not talk about in public. For instance, Grand Action will not provide a list of the people who have been consulted from the community, nor will they share much of the financial details at this point.

Commissioner Talen did say that Grand Action does have a larger agenda, which is to re-develop the area south of Wealthy Street, one of the concerns that people expressed at the meeting. The project proposal states that 1,200 jobs would be created, but nowhere does it state what kind of jobs will be created and whether or not they would pay a living wage. When asked if the proposal has any commitment to hiring residents near to the proposed site, Commisioner Talen responded that he was unaware of any such commitment.

Other issues that were raised at the meeting was the consequences of increased traffic congestion, increased air pollution because of more traffic and traffic jams, whether or not public dollars would be used in the process, why no transparency in the process and why such a high price tag for such a proposal?

Many of these questions could not be answered by the commissioner, but he did reveal to those in attendance that on top of the $27 million price tag, there was an additional $600,000 – 900,000 needed to move forward just for pre-construction purposes. In addition, since our first story on the proposed project the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has approved $100,000 towards the project, which means that public dollars are now involved.

Additional News Coverage

Since the initial stories about the proposed “Urban Market,” there have been a few new stories. First, there was a critical article in the May issue of new month publication, Positive Voices. Writer Peter Carlberg asks some important questions and makes sound observations. The current issue in not yet online, but should be by the end of the month if you can’t get hold of a print copy.

The other article that recently appeared was from the business journal MiBiz, which ran a story headlined, “Urban market sprouts collaboration, education.”

The article only cites the guy whom Grand Action hired to do an initial study for the project and someone from the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The story states that the planned market would generate “$775 million in regional economic activity in a decade.” One question to be asked based on that statement is who will be the primary beneficiaries of that $775 million?

The article also states that the project could train “entrepreneurs in good agricultural practices, leveraging technology to help agribusiness become more efficient to meet the needs of retailers and consumers.” Why do we need to help agribusiness become more efficient? Shouldn’t the real goal of truly sustainable project promote agriculture that involves more people and provides healthy food because it is everyone’s right?

However, the driving force behind such a project seemed to be captured in a comment by the representative from the Michigan Department of Agriculture who said he expected the “urban market to be a catalyst for adjacent redevelopment projects, spurring residual economic benefit and job growth.”

This statement should cause us all to question the larger motive behind such a project and whom it will benefit.

Interlocking Systems of Power

As we stated in the previous article about this issue, the primary beneficiaries of such a project will no doubt be those who are the major proponents of such a project – members of Grand Action.

Dick DeVos, David Frey and John Canepa are the “General Chairs” of Grand Action. Most of our readers know what economic interests Dick DeVos has (Amway & The Windquest Group). David Frey is recently retired Bank One Chase executive and is the current Chairman of the Frey Foundation. John Canepa is a former Old Kent Bank executive and now works as a financial consultant for the Crowe Horwath.

The Executive Committee for Grand Action is a who’s who of the areas economic powerbrokers. The list includes Marty Allen (businessman), David Haynes (Lobbyist), Richard Haslinger (West Michigan Chase Bank President), Steve Heacock (Van Andel Institute), Bob Hooker (Doctor), Mike Jandernoa (former CEO of Perrigo, Bridge St. Capital Management & head of Janderoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring), Kurt Kimbal (former Grand Rapids City Manager), Birgit Klohs (Executive Director of The Right Place), Jim Leach (President Leach Food Equipment), Donald Maine (Chancellor Emeritus of Davenport), Mary Ellen Rodgers (Deloitte LLC), Steve Van Andel (Chairman of Alticor), Carol Van Andel (Van Andel Foundation), Michelle VanDyke (CEO Fifth Third Bank of West Michigan) and Casey Wondergem (former Amway executive and now with the Van Andel Foundation).

Clearly these people represent a small sector of elites in West Michigan. However, in addition to their professions they solidify their economic and political influence by being part of inter-locking systems of power locally.

For instance, Richard Haslinger and Michelle VanDyke are both board members of The Right Place, which has tremendous influence on economic development locally. Kurt Kimball and Richard Haslinger are both members of the Economics Club of Grand Rapids.

John Canepa is a member of the Grand Rapids DDA and Mary Ellen Rodgers is on the Siedman School Advisory Board. Birgit Klohs is a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Jon Nunn, the Executive Director of Grand Action sits on the board of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. Mike Jandernoa is on the board of the Van Andel Instiute, Carol Van Andel is on the GVSU Foundation board and Steve Van Andel is the with the Center for Private Enterprise.

These interlocking systems of power should certainly tell us something about what might be motivating the downtown urban market proposal and who is likely to be the primary beneficiaries of such a project.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna Munro permalink
    May 10, 2010 3:19 pm

    It’s business as usual. Seems like all anyone can do is try to position themselves to survive.
    This article generates a few questions;
    Who owns property around there and stands to benefit if the area becomes “up and coming”?
    Who are their friends/contacts among those who are designing this plan?
    What can people in the neighborhood demand in return for their sacrifice?
    How can they benefit themselves, cash in on the project?
    What would be a better location?
    What partnerships would make more sense for real life on the ground as opposed to adding to the power and wealth of the de facto bosses of GR?
    Who is speaking for the people of the city, the residents, and the small farmers and small business owners? How can they get representation?
    How can the information get out to the people who will be impacted by this project?
    A public market has the potential to be a good thing. It would be very sad if it ended up being just another way for a few to get richer and more powerful without regard for the real health of the citizens.

  2. Eric Newell permalink
    December 16, 2010 2:43 pm

    It appears to me that the Grand Rapids Urban Market is about bringing local food to an urban area in Grand Rapids where people of all income and social levels can have access.

    Yes, both public and private money will be involved. We cannot expect people to invest private money with the expectation that they will lose money, can we?

    I plan on applying for work at this market, starting at the bottom and working my way up. My wages will reflect my willingness to work hard and my reliability. I do not believe any form of public money should be used to subsidize wages at this market.

    Do you have other suggestions for how the empty buildings in this area should be used?

    Eric Newell

  3. December 16, 2010 9:33 pm

    Eric, thanks for the reply. First, I would say that I can expect “investors” who want to make a profit should not get any help from public funds. You and I do not get public funds if we want to work. Second, as a resident of this area I also object to the lack of transparency on the so-called market and the lack of input from those of us who live in close proximity. As I have noted in other articles on this topic, the traffic congestion will increase, which also means more air pollution in an area that is already congested.

    I do have an idea for the use of the space, which would be to just have a farmers market there and not include the restaurants and all the other commercial projects they want to include, which by their own description would make that location a “tourist” attraction. I’m in favor of a farmers market, but they could spend a fraction of what they are proposing and use the money to set up farmers markets all over the city, which would allow more people to walk to get fresh produce.


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