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Unelected Downtown Development Authority gives more public money to downtown businesses for outdoor dining in the middle of the winter and amidst the pandemic

February 11, 2021

On Wednesday, WOOD TV8 reported that the Downtown Development Authority, allocated an additional $250,000 to winterize outdoor dinning in downtown Grand Rapids.

The funding for this project has already reached $625,000, since it was started in October of 2020. The money for the Winter Ready Grants comes directly from the City of Grand Rapids, which has set aside $1 million in economic relief, all of which is reflected in the DDA agenda for the February 10th meeting.

The WOOD TV8 story also includes a list of downtown restaurants that have benefited from this program.

Now, in one sense it may appear that the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) decision to provide these funds to restaurants who have been impacted from the COVID crisis, since we know that the restaurant sector has been hit hard with statewide orders making it either illegal to serve food indoors or to limit the amount of patrons in these establishments.

But here is the thing, the DDA is using public money from the City of Grand Rapids, taxpayer money, yet the public has no say in how this money is being allocated. On top of the fact that the public has no say in how public money is being used, there are also issues like the hundreds who have no housing, thousands of families that are facing eviction, thousands of families who are struggling to afford food, utilities and employment, also in the midst of this pandemic.

So, there are really two issues at stake here. First, there is the issue of the public being virtually excluded from making decisions about how this COVID relief money is being used. Would the public, if given the opportunity to really have a say in these matters.- which would probably require the city to adopt a Participatory Budgeting process – would the public decide that outdoor dinning in the middle of the winter be a priority or the housing, food and utility needs of thousands of families be the priority?

The other important issue, which is rarely discussed in the news media, is the fact that the group of people making these decision in regards to downtown Grand Rapids, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), is a body of unelected people who are appointed by the City, with most of those on the DDA Board representing systems of power. Here is a list of who is currently on the DDA Board, which entities they represent (as listed on the DDA site) and which other entities they are involved in that impact their decision making in this role.

  • Mayor Rosalynn Bliss
  • Richard Winn – Amway Hotel Corporation, also sits on the board of the Convention Arena Authority
  • Luis Avila – Varnum Law Firm
  • Kayem Dunn – Professional Consultant
  • Jermale Eddie – Owner of Malamiah Juice Bar
  • Greg McNeilly – Winquest Group (DeVos), also is the President of the DeVos created Michigan Freedom Fund
  • Jim Talen – former Kent County Commissioner
  • Diana Sieger – Grand Rapids Community Foundation
  • Jen Schottke – ABC Western Michigan (business), also is on the Board of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and has received sizable campaign support from the GR Chamber of Commerce and the Secchia family since 2016.

As long as unelected boards are allowed to exist in this city, it just perpetuates less accountability over how public money is spent. 

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