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DeVos Family funds another new “development” entity coming to West MI

February 21, 2012

Yesterday, MLive reporter Jim Harger posted a story about the Detroit-based Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) announcement that they were opening up a branch office in Grand Rapids.

This brief article was a “happy piece” about the ULI and the organization’s thoughts on moving to Grand Rapids. One of their representatives said, “The resurgence of downtown Grand Rapids, the exciting redevelopment of downtown Benton Harbor, the Lansing riverfront redevelopment and the revitalization of downtowns in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Holland are just a few examples of the transformative activities in our region.”

According to the Urban Land Institute website, “the 30,000 members worldwide represent the entire spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines, working in private enterprises and public service.  As the pre-eminent, multidisciplinary real estate forum, ULI facilitates the open exchange of ideas, information and experience among local, national and international industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better places.”

Such a statement requires one to ask who will be benefiting from these “better spaces.”

The Urban Land Institute is essentially made up of real estate professionals seeking to invest in urban centers around the world. Their Board of Directors is made up of sme of the most powerful real estate people/companies in the world. According to ULI they focus on 5 areas of urban development:

  • Resort and residential
  • Retail and destination development
  • Office and industrial development
  • Transportation and parking
  • Real estate finance and capital markets

The Urban Land Institute also has a foundation, which channels money into projects that primarily benefit real estate development and has partnerships with other foundations and financial entities such as Bank of America.

Bank of America is also a sponsor of the Urban Land Institute, along with many other major economic players in the country and the DeVos Family, which is listed as a Gold Sponsor.

The DeVos Family’s financial support of ULI makes complete sense, especially since they own a tremendous amount of downtown Grand Rapids property, with new investments like the purchasing of the old Morton House apartments building, which is slated to be another hotel. The Morton House did provide low income housing to people in Grand Rapids for years, but the DeVos purchase forced those people to relocate.

It also makes sense for the DeVos Family to financially support a non-profit entity like the Urban Land Institute, which can provide the research and advocacy to bolster other land deals in Grand Rapids down the road. Such an entity fits in with the strategic scheme of Rick DeVos and his family funded project known as ArtPrize.

The Urban Land Institute recently endorsed the transfer of state taxpayer funds to remove buildings on the south end of downtown Grand Rapids to make way for the new “Urban Market” that is now underway. The Urban Market is a project spearheaded by Grand Action, a Dick DeVos-founded entity that was behind the Van Andel Arena construction and other downtown development projects.

Unfortunately, the readers of MLive would not as easily connect the dots on the DeVos/Urban Land Institute relationship, since their article did not bother to investigate the real function of this real estate front group.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. signalsign permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:26 pm

    Here’s what Jim Harger said when I commented on this:


    Thanks for lending us your “critical eye.” You’re right, it was a basic re-write of their press release announcing their expansion into West Michigan. I did not see the need to launch an investigation.

    Having said that, I question how dominant an influence the DeVos family will be as one of several “Gold Sponsors” in this group. They are huge real estate investors in downtown Grand Rapids and Orlando, Fla., but I don’t see them making big real estate investments in other Michigan communities that the ULI intends to serve.

    Thanks again for your comments.


  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    February 22, 2012 5:29 pm

    Interesting that Harger admitted to a re-write of the Press Release. However, I wasn’t claiming that the DeVos role in supporting ULI was so they could invest in other cities. I was making the case that their support of such an entity would be beneficial for their continuing acquisition of property in Grand Rapids.

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