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A Public Hearing is scheduled for January 9 at the City Planning Commission for the DeVos created and financed AmplifyGR proposed development project

January 2, 2020

On Thursday, January 9th at 1pm, there will be a public hearing at the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for a new development project being proposed by AmplifyGR in the Boston Square neighborhood. The public hearing will be held at 1120 Monroe Ave NW in the city’s Development Center, in the Public Hearing Room on the 2nd floor.

This is the first concrete proposal that AmplifyGR has submitted to the City, since the public first became aware of their existence in May of 2017. GRIID was the first to write about AmplifyGR and the fact that is was a creation of the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. AmplifyGR had been meeting with the Southtown Corridor Improvement District, based on documents we found from January of 2017. However, most of the people in the Boston Square neighborhood were completely unaware of the fact that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation had been funding this new entity called AmplifyGR and was working with the Rockford Construction Company to purchase 22 separate pieces of property at the cost of $10 million. You can read a breakdown of the property costs for all 22 pieces of land at this link

It is important to recognize that the DeVos/Rockford Construction land grab took place with little knowledge of residents in the area, yet AmplifyGR wants people to trust that they have the best intentions. Are we to believe that the wealthiest family in West Michigan has nothing but noble intentions? The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation and Rockford Construction Company, both white-owned and operated entities, have nothing but good intentions by spending $10 million to purchase land in a mostly black neighbor?

In late June of 2017, AmplifyGR held its first public meeting, with over 200 in attendance. People came with lots of concerns and questions about what was happening in their neighborhood without their knowledge.  A second meeting was then held in late July of 2017, with even more pushback from the community.  At one point during this second public meeting, someone asked what if there was 70% opposition to this project? The Executive Director of AmplifyGR, John Ippel responded by saying, “even if 70% of the community opposed this, we would just have to get back up and move forward and do it better.” You could heard several people in the audience gasp in horror and the level of arrogance they heard coming from the AmplifyGR spokesperson.

After a few more meetings, AmplifyGR decided to put an end to public meetings and try a new tactic to engage people. After cancelling other public meetings AmplifyGR posted on the website the following statement:

Still, those of us on the front lines agree: If going slower is the price of getting this right… of NOT repeating the mistakes of the past… it’s worth it. You’re worth it. Our community is worth it. And our commitment and passion to achieving the above priorities has never been greater.” 

One could certainly conclude that the DeVos create/funded entity was going to do whatever it is they set out to do, regardless of community pushback.

This tactical shift, by not holding town hall-style meetings, has been effective. What AmplifyGR has done is to hold open door gatherings, where there are refreshment, displays of project proposals and people there to answer questions from anyone who has them. What this means is that people don’t hear the questions or concerns being voiced by other people, since the interaction is more one on one. The problem with this meeting style is that it not only prevents people from hearing important questions/objections, it denies people the opportunity to hear questions/objections that maybe they had never thought of. In addition, if there are people who raise hard questions, it is easier to isolate them, since they are asking these questions without any public response.

According to AmplifyGR, they have held three of these kinds of meetings, which were coordinated by the PR firm Lambert. You can read their FAQ document for the meetings here

A few days ago, MiBiz reported on the proposed AmligyGR project. In that article, it states that AmplifyGR, “has worked on the plans for the redevelopment project with Boston Square Together, which includes Oakdale Neighbors, a community development organization; the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative; and the Boston Square Neighborhood Association.” 

The Boston Square Neighborhood Association only has a Facebook page and there is no information on who sits on their board of directors. Oakdale Neighbors and the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative have both received substantial amounts of funding from various DeVos family foundations. Between 2013 and 2017, Oakdale Neighbors has received a total of $273,500 from the DeVos family and the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative has received $1,070,800 from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation alone. It would be hard for any reasonable person to think that either of these entities is not compromised in this process.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission already has a packet for the January 9th public hearing, which you can read here. The pages that are specific to the AmplifyGR development proposal can be found on pages 67 through 343. Most of the documentations is made up of traffic data, but is was instructive to see that on pages 71 – 74, Kurt Hassberger has signed several documents giving permission to AmplifyGR to rezone parts of the Boston Square neighborhood. These page refer to Hassberger as the being connected to an entity called Boston Square Residential LLC. Hassberger is in fact legal counsel for the Rockford Construction Company, the same company that bought all of the property in the Boston Square neighborhood for $10 million in partnership with the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. Upon further investigation, I found that Boston Square Residential LLC’s address is 601 First Street NW, Grand Rapids, 49504, which is also the address for Rockford Construction.

The Public Hearing is Thursday, January 9 and 1pm, 1120 Monroe Ave NW in the city’s Development Center, in the Public Hearing Room on the 2nd floor. This would be a great time for people to ask some poignant questions or make statements. GRIID will be there to report on the public hearing. 

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