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Grand Rapids invests over $6 million for private development in downtown, while Southeast Grand Rapids experiences disinvestment: We call this Structural Racism

November 11, 2020

Last month, we reported on how some groups in the Grand Rapids Power Structure were planning to move forward with a proposal to build a large amphitheater in downtown Grand Rapids.

We also reported that the land in question for the proposed amphitheater was owned by the DeVos family, specifically the old Charlie’s Crab restaurant and the adjacent land & parking area. One of the properties is owned by 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC, which was not verified by local news sources, but 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC is in the same address that houses the DeVos businesses and the various DeVos family foundations – 126 Ottawa Ave NW, Grand Rapids.

As of Tuesday, we now know more details about this proposal, which is even more insidious. During the Grand Rapids City Commission’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday morning, the City approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), whereby the Amway Hotel Corporation, 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority and the City of Grand Rapids, have agreed to enter into a private-public agreement to build a 14,000 seat outdoor amphitheater.

Now, in order to do this, the City will have to vacate some of their properties, just south of a US 131 highway offramp, along Market Avenue. As is shown on the map here, the land north of the US 131 highway offramp is owned by the Amway Hotel Corporation and 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC, which will likely be used for parking. The new 14,000 seat amphitheater will be located, according to City documents, at the 201 Market Avenue SW location, also shown here on the map. In addition, the City would give up their property located at 509 Wealthy SW, which is the property on the corner of Wealthy and Market Avenue.

This whole process is designed to free up the land along the Grand River for commercial development. The MOU states:

This innovative public/private partnership is an economic recovery project that will remove a critical barrier to redevelopment of properties along the Market Avenue corridor, including the City’s 15.8 acre 201 Market Avenue property and the 4.3 acre property located at 509 Wealthy Street. Proceeding in this way reduces construction conflicts and helps ensure timely availability of the properties for redevelopment without this encumbrance.

The cost of freeing up land for commercial development is an estimated $18,636,585, which will be divided up by three entities. The private entities – the Amway Hotel Corporation and 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC would contribute $7,383,942, the Convention/Arena Authority would contribute $5,000,000 and the City of Grand Rapids would pitch in $6,252,643. However, as MLive reported, Grand Action 2.0 would be the primary private entity leading the charge for the amphitheater and other commercial development along the Grand River and Market Avenue.

To be clear, the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County created the Convention/Arena Authority, which technically makes in a public entity. However, looking at who sits on the board of the Convention/Arena Authority, we’d be hard pressed to consider it public. Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority – Steve Heacock (Grand Rapids Whitewater), Birgit Klohs (Right Place Inc.), Charlie Secchia (SIBSCO), Floyd Wilson (Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan), Rosalynn Bliss (Mayor, Grand Rapids), Lew Chamberlin ( West Michigan Whitecaps), and Richard Winn (Amway Hotel Corporation).

Whether or not the Convention/Arena Authority is public, we do know that the City of Grand Rapids is willing to invest $6,252,643 to free up land along the Grand River for commercial development, which would include a 14,000 seat outdoor amphitheater. 

So what does this announcement that the City of Grand Rapids is willing to spend $6,252,643 of public money for private development in the downtown area mean? It means that the City of Grand Rapids is not really committed to equity and racial justice, as they claim. Why is it so easy for the City to use over $6 million in public money to benefit the private sector in downtown Grand Rapids, yet is unwilling to invest that amount and more into the southeast part of Grand Rapids, at part of the city that has economically suffered for decades, which also happens to be where the majority of African Americans live? The answer must be because of systemic and structural racism. What else could it be?

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