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The Devil is in the Details: The Business of Grand Rapids is Business and Business Development……as long as the public pays for it

October 20, 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. 

In this installment we look at The Right Place Inc. and their push to get the City to provide more funding for development projects and Rockford Construction’s growing influence in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids;

As we have reported in the past, the Right Place Inc. is a major player in supporting the private sector, they have convinced City officials for years to turn over public dollars to support more and more business growth. The Right Place agenda to push for more business development with public money should come as no surprise, given the fact that the Right Place Inc’s Board of Directors is made up of members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

The presentation that the Right Place Inc made to the Economic Development Team on October 12 is a great example of how they are selling public/private development, ie. using public money for private benefit. On pages 6 – 12 of the Economic Development Agenda Packet, you can read all the rhetoric they use to win over public officials. 

They use place-based vision and place-based strategy, especially since these are highly popular terms within the Neo-Liberal economic world. However, one should not be fooled by this kind of rhetoric, since it is fundamentally just another austerity measure imposed on the public, while the private sector reaps all the benefits.

Here is a sampling of this neoliberal word play from the Right Place Inc.:

1. Transformational Sites and Projects 

  1. Provide comprehensive development support for projects and sites that have potential to be a positive catalyst for the local community. 
  2. Real Estate Development Support: Solving real estate challenges related to: “revisioning” legacy sites and properties, financing, brownfield development, catalytic uses, community engagement, housing needs, partnerships, planning, etc.
    District/Corridor Development Assistance: Drive the development and enhancement of traditional downtown districts and commercial corridors. 
  3. Public Art and Commercial/Industrial Design: Assist communities in the development enhancement of creative arts and public art projects.    

2. Infrastructure 

a. Support communities, businesses, and developers with innovative & collaborative project-based solutions related to: water, sewer, broadband, roads, rail, air, mobility, and trails. 

3. Smart Sustainable Communities 

a. Convene efforts to take on smart city-based initiatives such as: community based ai, sensors, green tech, smart mobility, etc., including possible collaborations with The Right Place Tech Council. 

4. Community Growth Aspirational Strategies 

a. Provide aspirational growth and planning assistance to communities such as: community visioning/planning, commercial/industrial development, infrastructure planning, leadership & capacity development, etc. 

Now, this sort of language might seem inspiring, but what the Right Place Inc is essentially doing is to get the City of Grand Rapids to give up more public money for their little pet projects, projects which primarily benefit those who are already wealthy. Some of those pet projects that the Right Place Inc. has included in their presentation to the City are, the Kent County Sustainable Business Park, Grand River/Whitewater engagement, and Developer Day. 

Our second example further demonstrates how Rockford Construction is leveraging their influence in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids, after they partnered with the DeVos family to buy up dozens of parcels of land.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission Agenda Packet for October 14 (Pages 97 – 120) has information about Rockford Construction’s latest endeavor for having longterm control over development planning for the Madison Square area. The Planning Commission document refers to Rockford Construction as a  non-profit lending, real estate consulting, research, and community development firm.” Rockford Construction wants to re-develop space on Madison Avenue SE for a ground floor office. 

The information included with Rockford Construction’s proposal has to do with the larger strategic plan for the Madison Square area, which is why the westside company wants a more permanent presence in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids. How much this decision to create an office on the Madison Square area and Rockford Construction’s role in the AmplifyGR projects, has yet to be determined, but people would be foolish to not pay attention to these developments. As we have noted previously, Rockford Construction has been working to insert themselves in the development of the part of town with the largest Black population since at least 2014. However, Rockford Construction, along with the DeVos family, only revealed that they had purchased dozens of parcels of land in the Southeast part of GR in 2017. What this new office satellite will mean is hard to determine at this point, but people would be wise to pay close attention to how this will impact that part of the City’s 3rd Ward.

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