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People, Profits and the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project

February 20, 2019

There has been recent news coverage about the Grand Rapids Whitewater project, primarily around new funding efforts and the naming of a new CEO.

MiBiz ran an article on February 8 noting that $4.4 million in new funds have been pledged for the project, with $1.4 million coming from Kent County, $2 million from the state of Michigan and $1 million coming from the Cook Foundation. The Cook Foundation, interestingly enough, has a history of funding right wing Christian organizations over the years and Peter Cook (along with Rich DeVos) threatened to withdraw million for the GVSU health building on the corner of Michigan and Lafayette in 1995 after it was discovered that the university had made a promise to faculty and staff to grant domestic partner benefits. Peter Cook and Rich DeVos opposed domestic partner benefits.

This project is also seen as another public-private partnership, which essentially means that public money will be transferred to the private sector, with little or not say from the public.

Also noted in the MiBiz article was the naming of Steve Heacock as the new CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater. MiBiz provided adequate information on Heacock stating:

Heacock formerly worked as chief administrative officer of Van Andel Institute and previously was a partner in law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP. He also has been involved in the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority and Grand Action and was a former chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners.

Steve Heacock is the perfect choice to led Grand Rapids Whitewater, since Heacock is a political insider who has served the interests of the Grand Rapids Power Structure for decades. Such interests have primarily been economic interests, which is the primary focus of the river restoration project. The 2014 report put together by the Anderson Economic Group on behalf of Grand Rapids Whitewater, makes it clear that economic development is the main goal of the group.

The economic development aspect of the river restoration project will mean more businesses along the river, businesses that will primarily benefit the professional class, along with new entertainment venues and of course increased tourism. Such economic incentives are consistent with the history of who has benefited from the use and abuse of the river. At the peak of the furniture baron era, massive profits were being made by the captain of industry, while at the same time the pollution and contamination of the river was being committed by industrial capitalism.

The MiBiz article also states that the river restoration project is being dubbed the “River for All” project. Since this project is primarily an economic development tool, working class and poor people are not likely to be flocking to the restored river. This will not be due to signs posted saying, poor people not welcomed. However, the reality is that working class and poor people have less leisure time than those who are well off and while working class people enjoy the river for picnics they will not be the ones lining up to use kayaks or spend money at the new restaurant and entertainment venues that will pop up along the river.

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