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Grand Action 2.0 speaker provides update on new development vision for Grand Rapids: Whiteness, Grand Rapids as a destination and Disaster Capitalism

November 23, 2020

Over the past month, there has been more and more information coming forth about Grand Action 2.0 and their desire to build an amphitheater along the Grand River and Market Avenue SW.

In October, 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.

On November 10th, we reported on updated 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. You can read the details of this agreement from our previous article on this topic, which means that the City of Grand Rapids will spend over $6 million to move offices they have on Market Avenue, just south of the off ramp of US 131, in order to make space for the proposed amphitheater.

On Monday, Grand Action 2.0 brought to town John Kaatz, who works for Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL). Kaatz spoke at the Econ Club meeting, which are meetings that are primarily attended by members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and the business & professional class from West Michigan.

Dick DeVos and Carol Van Andel, as key members of Grand Action 2.0, both made comments before the scheduled speaker. Grand Action initiated this whole process and Dick DeVos made it clear that Grand Action 2.0 and this current riverfront development conversation was really started in 2016, when they paid consultants to produce a study about expanding the tourism & entertainment industry in Grand Rapids and how to attract and retain talent, which is code for how does GR attract the professional and business class to the area……which is also code for White people.

John Kaatz (CSL) then appeared on screen and began to talk more about this new development process and which key stakeholders his company engaged. You can see from the image here, who CSL considers to be stakeholders, which is code for those with economic and political power. The list does not include the public, but as Kaatz said, “potential customers.”

Kaatz then laid out 3 main issues, based on what Grand Action 2.0 wants to see happen:

  • Future investment and expansion opportunities that will help preserve and expand the competitive position of the DeVos Place Convention Center.
  • Potential development of a new multi-purpose soccer stadium in Grand Rapids that will allow for a higher level professional play, as well as various other sport and entertainment activities.
  • Potential development of a new large-scale amphitheater in Grand Rapids, partnered with numerous cultural, entertainment, adventure and other assets that can improve quality of life for regional residents and attract new visitors.

Addressing the first point, Katz said the convention center could add a TV production studio, food & beverage operations within the convention space, specifically for locally sourced products. 

On the matter of the second point, developing a plan for a soccer stadium, Kaatz said they are looking at maybe using spaces like the downtown post office, Calder Plaza or other area spaces for expansion. Kaatz also said there would need to be an ownership group, someone to own the team, and that the USL – United Soccer League – is interested in Grand Rapids. 

In regards to an Amphitheater, Kaatz could envision maybe 25 concerts a year, maybe picnic at the pops, plus booking other business events at the site. He also said the space should be a community gathering space, that doesn’t necessary need the Amphitheater for events like PRIDE or beer festivals.

Kaatz then talked about what else could go on the site, such as commercial development, which would put activities right on the water front. Kaatz made it clear that this whole development project will tie into the Whitewater project, which would include other activities, like an Urban water park, space to relax, for picnics and an outdoor adventure center. 

The Econ Club event was then opened up to a Q&A portion that was facilitated by former Gov. Engler Press Secretary John Truscott. Actually, Truscott did not allow anyone to verbally ask questions and he controlled the content of the questions that were sent to him, often re-phrasing what was asked.

Tom Welch, from Fifth Third Bank and co-chair of Grand Action 2.0, also made it clear that this larger project would follow the public/private partnership, which really means that the private sector gets to be the primary beneficiary, with the public meaning local government, who will provide public dollars, without public input. 

There were a few other questions that seemed rather inconsequential and than Dick DeVos wrapped up the comments by stating that, “this is the perfect time to develop ideas.” DeVos then said he saw COVID as a “hiatus.” This comment not only demonstrates that he gets to see the pandemic from a highly privileged position, while thousands contract the disease in Kent County and the death toll climbing daily. Dick DeVos then said he has his own term for COVID, but said he wouldn’t share what it is. As someone who has followed the DeVos family for decades, I would speculate that Dick DeVos sees the pandemic as a form of Disaster Capitalism, which means that the private sector will be able to capitalize on the harm an push things through that will benefit those with power, while the rest of us are just trying to survive.

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