Skip to content

AmplifyGR meeting received a lot of push-back from the community on plans to re-develop parts of southeast Grand Rapids

June 30, 2017

Last night an estimated 200 – 250 people showed up to the community forum organized by AmplifyGR. The event was scheduled to go from 6 – 7:30pm, but lots of people showed up early.

It was clear that AmplifyGR has no shortage of money, since staff and volunteers were all wearing AmplifyGR t-shirts. Upon entering the door to the church (where the event was held) people were encouraged to fill out an information card or place dots on sheets of paper that listed some areas of concern.

In the church sanctuary, where the forum was being held, it had the feel of a concert or an awards ceremony, with the big stage all lit up and AmplifyGR logos projected on multiple screens.

The event did start promptly at 6pm, with city commissioners and the AmplifyGR team and funders on stage to start the show. The pastor of the church welcomed people and was followed by comments from the two Third Ward City Commissioners, Dave Allen and Senita Lenear. 

Both of the commissioners generally spoke in support of the AmplifyGR project, although at one point Commissioner Lenear said, “We don’t want what happened on Wealthy St. to happen here, We know that people could no longer afford to live in that neighborhood.” This statement received lots of verbal affirmation and applause from people in attendance.

After the commissioners spoke, Doug DeVos then took the mic and addressed people in attendance. You can view the 6 minutes and 15 second comments by the Amway President. DeVos shared an Amway story, spoke about their involvement with Believe 2 Become (which is primarily funded by the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation) and that they have been involved with many of the non-profits in the Boston Square area. DeVos says that he just wants to be a better neighbor by partnering and collaborating with the people who live there. If this is the case, why would AmplifyGR/Rockford Construction have spent the last 3 years purchasing roughly $10 million worth of property in the area, yet most people are unaware of it? 



Following DeVos was the CEO of Rockford Construction, Mike VanGessel. VanGessel shared a bit of his background and then talked about the development end of the project, except that he didn’t really talk about any of the actual development end of the project, despite the fact that representatives from Rockford Construction have been meeting with members of the Southtown Corridor Improvement District since January of this year, with plans they had for the area. None of the slides that were presented to those who sit on the Southtown Corridor Improvement District, were shared with those who came to hear about AmplifyGR.

The next speaker was John Ippel, who is the director of AmplifyGR. We also taped what Ippel had to say in the video below. Ippel talked a bit about an open house that AmplifyGR held in May, where people shared concerns about improving education and having access to affordable housing. What Ippel failed to say is that these issues were already the focus of their plan, before listening to concerns from people in the community. This slide was shared as early as January with the Southtown Corridor Improvement District, which clearly articulates a vision for what AmplifyGR wants to see happen.

Ippel also mentions that the AmplifyGR project wants to utilize the Purpose Built Communities Model. Again, what was not shared was the fact that the Purpose Built Community Model is not driven by residents, but former politicians, business people and  non-profit professionals. One interesting aspect about the Purpose Built Communities model that was used in Atlanta, was that a 650 unit public housing complex was torn down and replaced by a mixed-use model. People who lived in the public housing were invited to come back, but 13% of the families were not allowed to come back because of lack of employment or because of felony records. 



A few other members of the AmplifyGR team spoke after Ippel, but after all of them had spoken, there was a mere 45 minutes for people to ask questions or make comments. Well, sort of. The Q&A process that was used, only allowed for people to write down questions on cards, but this was never stated at the beginning of the forum, so people were scrambling to get cards that they could fill out. On top of that, there were a few people from AmplifyGR who had all the cards and were clearly sorting them and selecting which ones they wanted to have read.

What is it about those with power not wanting to actually hear from people who have questions or comments? It is extremely important for people to hear those who have questions, not just for the content, but the way in which people say what is on their minds.

This process demonstrated to many in the room that this event was highly orchestrated and managed so that AmplifyGR could determine the parameters of the dialogue that would take place. However, after just a few questions were read, people began to challenge the process and make it clear that the responses provided by those on stage were vague or avoided the questions completely. People began speaking from their seats or the back of the room, thus defying a process that excluded or marginalized voices.

The AmplifyGR people were clearly frustrated and flustered by the audience response. In addition, there were several people there who came with small signs with words like gentrification, Done Deal or Opportunity for Whom? written on both sides, so that those on stage and those in the audience could read what was being held up.

Some of the more poignant questions that were asked were, “What is your definition of what affordable housing really means?” This question was never really answered and at  one point VanGessel said that people could go to the State of Michigan’s website to see what affordable housing meant.

Another question asked, “why create another group instead of supporting Linc?” This question elicited a loud applause from the audience. Again, the response was vague and evasive.

Another important question that was asked was, “Will there be an opportunity for residents and neighborhood businesses to have a chance to own, instead of Rockford Construction owning everything?” Again, people from the community applauded and gave verbal affirmations.

As the forum ended it became clear to many people that despite AmplifyGR’s efforts to control the direction of the meeting, people from the community were not going to play along. People asserted themselves in such a way as to suggest there was significant discontent with how the meeting was organized and how little their concerns were actually heard.

There will be another meeting held on July 27, although no location has been provided. People can check the AmplifyGR Facebook page for updates and once we know, we will certainly post the location on this site. 


%d bloggers like this: