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Public money being used to promote shopping in Grand Rapids

October 13, 2011

Yesterday, it was reported on MLive that the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) decided to give more money than requested to a business called Levitation.

Levitation, which organizes events, was at the most recent DDA meeting to ask for $5,000 for a holiday shopping kick-off event in downtown Grand Rapids tentatively set for November 18.

The DDA responded by giving them an additional $7,500. The MLive story reads:

DDA board member and Huntington Bank’s regional President Jim Dunlap encouraged organizers to think bigger — exponentially bigger. “We don’t do little things here,” he said. “We’re trying to change what we do here. Does anybody care about $7,500. What if it was $75,000?” DDA board member Brian Harris echoed Dunlap: “We don’t (sic) you to be anemic on this,” he said.

Does anybody really care about $7,500? Actually, people would care if they realized that the DDA uses in part taxpayer money for their downtown projects, despite the fact that the group is not elected or chosen by the public.

In addition, those who make up the board of the DDA are predominantly from the business community, who would potentially benefit from such an investment from taxpayer money. Those on the current DDA board include John Bultema (Fifth Third) John Canepa (Grand Action), Jim Dunlap (Huntington Bank), Kayem Dunn (Consultant), Jane Gietzen (Spectrum Health), Brian Harris (CEO H & H Metal) and Joe Tomaselli (Amway Grand CEO). There are also two politicians on the DDA, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen.

Many of the business people on the DDA are also involved with other business-focused groups that reflect the interlocking systems of power in this community that are so wealthy that it boggles the mind that they get to decide on how public money is spent.

Jim Dunlap is a core member of the West Michigan Policy Forum, which fought to get the business tax eliminated in Michigan and is also trying to make Michigan a Right to Work state. John Canepa is with Grand Action, the DeVos led group that was behind the construction of the Van Andel arena and is the main force behind the downtown urban market, which the DDA has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to.

Just another example of how the 1% is using the funds of the 99% without our consent.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2011 12:40 pm

    Jeff, it sure feels like you are grasping at straws here!

    First, I would recommend that you check out the link to the actual DDA agenda that I provide in my weekly newsletters. There you could get better information about what actually happened than you provide in your article.

    Second, the money is actually going to the Downtown Alliance, an organization of downtown businesses that attempts to promote downtown businesses, especially retail, and receives annual support from the DDA. Levitation and Spotlight616 are simply two local businesses that would be contracted with by the Alliance to organize the event. Nothing unusual there.

    Third, your assertion that DDA members are primarily from the business community is misleading, at best. The way you list the members and their employers could leave the impression that just because someone works for a business, they are on the DDA to promote that business. Jane Gietzen, for example, works for Spectrum Health but is on the DDA to represent the interests of Grand Rapids Public Schools, of which she is a board member. She is an elected official, part-time, like me and Mayor Heartwell. George and I both get most of our income from working for businesses and mine happens to be in the DDA area, although it is a non-profit. George, as you know, also works for a non-profit.

    Fourth, I hope you realize that decisions about the use of taxpayer money are made all the time by non-elected people. The DDA is not unusual in that regard. The Kent County Aeronautics Board, the Kent County Road Commission, the Uptown Corridor Improvement District (Eastown, Midtown, East Hills business districts), the Madison Corridor Improvement District (Madison/Hall business district), the G.R. Planning Commission, the G.R. Housing Appeals Board, Kent District Library….the list could go on and on. It’s the way government works – elected people can’t make all the decisions. They appoint people they believe will do good work on the behalf of citizens and replace them with others if that belief doesn’t pan out.

    Fifth, the DDA captures only property taxes that are generated in its designated geographic area. Many of the businesses that you mention in your article are significant contributors to the DDA through the property taxes that are captured from their businesses. One might argue, as a corollary to your arguments, that more of downtown property taxes should stay downtown and be used there, instead of supplementing the rest of G.R. I would hate to see that happen.

    Just some things to think about…..I generally appreciate your work and writing but found this particular diatribe to be disappointing. I’m happy to talk with you in person about these things, if that is of interest.


  2. October 14, 2011 2:34 pm

    Jim, I appreciate the feedback, but I don’t think I was grasping at straws or engaged in a diatribe. I do utilize your weekly County Comm. messages, but the DDA does not post minutes from meetings for a month or more after the fact, which makes it difficult for them to be timely.

    I was relying on the Mlive story and writing it as a new dissection piece. To your second point about money going to the Downtown Alliance and that there is nothing unusual here. The question is, is any of that money that goes to the Downtown Alliance from the DDA provided by taxpayers? This is the main argument of my article. People who are businesses owners, the capitalist class, are always telling us that they don’t want regulation or the state to interfere with the market, but then turn around and welcome taxpayer money. In fact, as many researches have discovered, like Citizens for Tax Justice, if public subsidies going to Fortune 400 companies were discontinued, many of them would fold.

    If no public money is going to this Holly Jolly shopping event then end of story, but you haven’t said as such, so I assume that is still the case, which I find rather unjust. It is unjust because the public does not have a say in any of this and secondly, why are we promoting more consumption considering the state of the planet?


  1. Instead of giving public money to benefit the business class in Grand Rapids, how about we adopt the process of Participatory Budgeting | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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