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The Transformational 12: Expanding the play area of downtown Grand Rapids for the white business class and their friends

September 13, 2021

On Tuesday, the City Grand Rapids Economic Development Team will be presenting information on what they are calling the Transformational 12.

According to the Agenda Packet from the Economic Development Team (pages 20 – 24):

“The Transformational Twelve” investment list was compiled by Grand Rapids community partners including The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, City management and other stakeholders. The partners engaged in a dialogue to identify shared priority projects that can be advocated jointly for state and federal funding opportunities in response to the unprecedented funding available for public improvements, including through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). Many of the transformational projects are aligned with priorities in the City’s Strategic Plan and Legislative Priorities Agenda.”

Of course the first question we should ask ourselves is, for whom will these 12 projects be transformational for? In reality, the Transformational 12 is a list of projects that will primarily benefit the area’s business class. In addition, the total estimated cost for the Transformational 12 projects is $1,994,500,000, which is nearly $2 Billion. Imagine how $2 Billion could be used to provide housing, health care or combat poverty in this community. 

A second question that should always be asked, is why do the entities listed in the Agenda Packet get invited to the table to make these decisions? Why do The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce get invited by the City on these critical economic development projects? These groups represent part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which is responsible for maintain systems of oppression, such as White Supremacy. Subsequently, we should be asking why are groups like the Urban Core Collective, the NAACP, Movimiento Cosecha or Justice For Black Lives not being asked to give their input? The answer seems painfully obviously.

Third, it seems like the language used above suggests that some of the funding that will be used will be public money, since it states:

The partners engaged in a dialogue to identify shared priority projects that can be advocated jointly for state and federal funding opportunities in response to the unprecedented funding available for public improvements, including through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). 

This means that public money from the federal and state governments will be used, and since the City of Grand Rapids is involved in the Transformational 12 projects, that means that tax money from Grand Rapids residents will be used. Therefore, if public money from the federal government, the state government and the City of Grand Rapids will be used, then is seems to this writer that the public should have a direct say in how public money is being used.

Here are the 12 Transformational projects that are being presented, with an estimated cost in millions of dollars, followed by some observations about the projects:

  • Aquarium $200M+
  • Grand River Greenway Initiative $500M
  • Convention Center Expansion and Hotel $400M
  • GRCC Public Safety Training Center $45M
  • Countywide Affordable Housing $240M
  • GRR Airport Control Tower Relocation $60M
  • GVSU Blue Dot Digital Learning Lab $90M
  • Outdoor Amphitheater $40M+
  • Market Avenue Gateway $270M+
  • Post Office Relocation $70M+
  • MSU Innovation Center Campus Expansion $39.5M
  • Soccer Stadium $40M+

Aquarium $200M+ – Is primarily a tourist attraction, since the accompanying test says that the aquarium would have a $100 million per year direct economic impact. This means that people visiting would stay in local hotels, eat in downtown restaurants, etc.

Grand River Greenway Initiative $500M – The text here states that it would turn the banks of the Grand River into “a major new destination for visitors to Michigan and drive local growth towards an increasingly more livable, equitable and prosperous West Michigan region.” In other words, more tourism. The text also states, “The Initiative will also significantly increase the amount of parks and recreational opportunity accessible to low-income populations, communities of color and youth in the region.” Of course the text doesn’t say how it will attract communities experiencing poverty or Black & Brown youth. GRIID has previously addressed this development project.

Convention Center Expansion and Hotel $400M – more money from tourism and to keep Grand Rapids “competitive.” 

GRCC Public Safety Training Center $45M – Seems that the community college wants to get in on the game of creating future cops.

Countywide Affordable Housing $240M – The text that accompanies this project is instructive: “WHAT: Analysts currently estimate that within Kent County, the current Housing gap between demand and availability exceed 22,000 units. In addition, the rental demand versus availability exceeds 13,000 units. This initiative would begin to address those gaps through the implementation of a countywide housing strategy. WHY: The data shows that housing supply has not kept pace with our growth, creating significant upward pressure on housing costs. To attract the future talent this region needs to fuel its economic growth, readily available housing for that talent is critical.” There is no mention of affordable housing in the text, but they do use language around the need for more housing to attract “future talent”, but is code for the professional class. 

GRR Airport Control Tower Relocation $60M – Expansion of the airport means we contribute more to climate change.

GVSU Blue Dot Digital Learning Lab $90M – This project is designed to further facilitate a Neo-Liberal economic model, by adapting to a post-pandemic world, with more interaction between students and the business class.

Outdoor Amphitheater $40M+ – This is a DeVos family-led project, which has already used taxpayer funds for upgrading the Market Street Corridor and relocating Grand Rapids Government offices, which we have written about.

Market Avenue Gateway $270M+ – Here the text states, “The goal is to create a catalytic vision that will improve quality of life for today’s Grand Rapidians and guide the next phase of downtown development for the next generation.” Really, it will improve the quality of life for people in GR? 

Post Office Relocation $70M+ – Those with economic control in this community have been pushing for this for more than a decade. The reason is…….”The 3.6-acre property has been an optional location for several downtown project initiatives and remains a prime development opportunity in the heart of downtown.”

MSU Innovation Center Campus Expansion $39.5M – This project would, make “Grand Rapids the next Silicon Valley for healthcare innovation and research.” 

Soccer Stadium $40M+ – “Given the size of the Grand Rapids market, and based on the feedback from league officials, the USLC classification represents the best fit to maximize Grand Rapids’ market potential.” Plus, who do you think would own the team???

Lastly, there is text which is on the first page of the document created for the Transformational 12 Project. The text reads:

These twelve transformational projects represent bold community and economic growth initiatives that will have a dramatic and lasting impact on the region. From transforming the Grand River corridor and developing world class entertainment venues, to investing in higher education and affordable housing, this list creates the unified momentum to accelerate the next chapter of West Michigan’s growth story.

We interpret this text to mean that it will continue to solidify and expand economic benefits to white business owners that are already incredibly wealthy, it will rely on lots of public funding with no real public input, and it will expand the play area of downtown Grand Rapids for the white business class and their friends. The Transformational 12 will have little impact for those that are economically exploited and those which suffer the most under a system of White Supremacy.

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