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The Devil is in the Details 3/212021: Still no transparency with an AmplifyGR project and a new naming of public spaces policy opens the door to the rich getting their names everywhere

March 22, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes.

There are 2 issues we want to focus on in this installment of The Devil is in the Details, with the first one being the ongoing lack of transparency around the 1601 Madison SE project that is being spearheaded by AmplifyGR. 

As we mentioned in the last installment of this post, AmplifyGR has been pushing this development project since last November, but has failed to identify which company will be located at the 1601 Madison SE property, despite the fact that AmplifyGR has been asking for a $1,943,810 tax break through the Brownfield Development Authority.

On March 17, I sent an e-mail to 3rd Ward City Commissioner Lenear, asking if she knew what company would be located at the 1601 Madison SE property, but as of this posting I have yet to get a response.

In the Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority packet for March 17th, there was new information on the AmplifyGR project. AmplifyGR’s Director Jon Ippel introduced Andy Shannon from MCPC, representing the tenant for the property. Mr. Shannon provided background on the company. However, the document never provides the name of the company. Andy Shannon is the President of Sales for MCPC, which is a Data Protection Company, which leads us to believe that the company that will be occupying the 1601 Madison SE property will be a tech company.

Also worth noting about this project is that Ruben Ramos, who sits on the Southtown Corridor Authority Board, said he would be abstaining from voting on this project. Unfortunately, the document doesn’t provide a reason why Ramos would be abstaining, but that usually means there is a conflict of interest, which often means those abstaining have a financial interest in the project. 

The second issue we wanted to address in this addition of The Devil is in the Details, has to do with a new Parks & Recs policy proposal, which was included in the March 23rd Committee of the Whole packet, beginning on page 63.

The subject of the document listed states, Resolution approving City Commission Policy 1100-11; Naming and Renaming of Parks and Recreational Facilities. A more detailed explanation is referenced on page 66, which states:

These policies and procedures are intended to guide a) any individual or community group that is interested in having a park, building, or major feature named for a significant person, event, or place, b) any individual, group, or business that is interested in having their significant donation (park, building, major feature) named, c) the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board that will be making a recommendation to the department in regard to these requests, d) City Commission members that will be holding public hearings and approving the names of parks and buildings, and e) the Parks and Recreation Department Director and their staff.

Now, part of the documentation states that the naming or renaming of Parks and other public spaces in the City, “are not encouraged and should be entertained only after fully investigating and considering the potential impact of dropping the current name, of which will be included as part of the formal petition submitted.”

However, beginning on page 69, the document then begins to talk about naming and renaming public spaces for Major Gifts, meaning financial contributions. Here the document provides some details:

“When a gift is made to the Grand Rapids parks and recreation system that is of such magnitude and generosity that naming of such a new park or recreational facility in honor of or at the request of the benefactor, consideration to naming rights will be considered in addition to the other criteria outlined herein. 

As a guideline but not a limitation, the threshold for naming rights on parks and buildings would include one or preferably more of the following: 

  1. Deeding to the City of most, if not all, of the land on which the park or building to be named will be situated; 
  2. Payment of one-half or more of the capital costs of constructing a park or building to be named (depending on the availability of matching funds or grants); 
  3. Some long-term endowment for the repair and maintenance of a donated park or building; and 
  4. The provision of significant program costs for facilities that will serve parks and recreation program needs.

When reading this, the only thing that I could think of was that the City is willing to consider naming or renaming public spaces based on financial contributions, which almost always means from those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Does this mean that we might see in the not too distant future a park or other public space being named after Richard & Helen DeVos? It certainly seems possible, since on page 69 it references naming right for Benefactors – members of the Capitalist Class, and corporations, associations, and other legally created entities making a major gift. 

Of course, this whole trend it rooted in the fact that government bodies have been adopting austerity measures, which are the hallmark of Neoliberalism. Austerity measures include the transfer of public money to the private sector, privatization of formerly public services and deregulation. 

With this new Naming and Renaming of public spaces policy, it opens the door for rich people and corporations to buy naming rights, which would not only be insulting to the public, it would also be driven by the ongoing war that Grand Rapids Power Structure has been waging in this community. This war is being directed at the most marginalized in our community, with concrete material consequences, but it’s also a war being waged against historical memory and forgetting. The more our public spaces are named after those with financial and political power, the more likely we become vulnerable to a sanitized narrative about those who have been exploiting this city for decades. 

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