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MLive uncritically presents development projects as transformational, but fails to ask who really benefits

March 1, 2022

Last Thursday, MLive posted an article entitled, 12 ‘transformational’ projects identified by Grand Rapids economic development group. In the second paragraph of the article it states:

Working with city, business and tourism leaders, The Right Place identified 12 “transformational” projects. The projects, some of which have been discussed for years, would benefit Grand Rapids, and build on its reputation as a city where people want to live, work and visit, officials say.

The primary sources used in the article are spokespersons from both the Right Place Inc. and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. These two groups are both private sector entities that make up part of what GRIID identifies as the Grand Rapids Power Structure. What we mean by Grand Rapids Power Structure, is that there are organizations and individuals that wield tremendous political, economic, social and cultural power in this community, most often without the public’s consent.

Then there is the issue of MLive using the term transformational to describe these so-called development projects. Transformational or transformative often means, causing a marked change in someone or something. Thus the use of the term is not inaccurate. However, what critical aspect of what the MLive article fails to address, something that journalism should always do, is to always ask the question, who benefits? We all should be asking ourselves: 1) Who will be the primary beneficiaries from these 12 projects, 2) how much money, both public and private, will be used for these projects, and 3) what could that money be used for that would be truly transformational for communities most affected by the constant emphasis on Neoliberal Capitalism, development and entrepreneurial ventures in this city?

The MLive lists the 12 “transformational projects, with a brief description. We will list the 12 projects and provide a brief counter analysis of each. 

  • Convention Center Expansion and Hotel – This project will primarily benefit those who own and operate the downtown hotels, parking lots, bars, restaurants and entertainment spaces. People will often say, like they do during ArtPrize, that those who do most of the work in these spaces – parking attendants, wait staff, those who clean hotel rooms, line cooks, dish washers, valets, etc, will also benefit. The truth is that those who do the hard work do not make a living wage, many pf them do not have good benefits, work long hours and are deeply undervalued. In contrast, those who own the hotels and other businesses in the downtown will continue to reap huge profits from the Convention Center Expansion and Hotel. 
  • Countywide Affordable Housing – MLive does not clearly define what this means or who is behind such a plan, but I believe it is the Housing Kent project that is facilitated through KConnect. You can read their 50-page strategic plan here. This item has the potential to be transformative, but some of the people involved and those funding the strategy are also members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which should raise red flags for those most affected. 
  • Downtown Post Office Relocation – Those who own and control a great deal of the property in the downtown area have been wanting the post office relocation for the better part of two-decades. While relocating the post office might make sense, it will free up real estate that those who are part of the local power structure will definitely benefit from. 
  • Grand Rapids Aquarium – This project is seen as working to make GR a more attractive tourist destination, which it no doubt would. However, who will own and operate the aquarium, and which businesses already benefit from tourism in this city? 
  • Grand River Greenway Initiative – This project intends to create a waterfront area into a 5-mile outdoor recreation corridor. This project will primarily benefit the businesses along the waterfront, plus it will disproportionately attract communities who have more mobility and more privilege for recreating along the Grand River. Also, see our post from last year about the development project along the Grand River.
  • Grand Rapids Community College Public Safety Training Center – Lets call this what it is, a center that will primarily train people to be cops. Public safety has nothing to do with it. 
  • Gerald R. Ford International Airport Control Tower Relocation – This project will just expand the amount of air travel to and from Kent County. The increased air travel primarily benefits members of the business/Capitalist Class and has significant ecological consequences, particularly around escalation of Climate Change.
  • Grand Valley State University Digital Learning Epicenter – When has a GVSU project really been a benefit to those most affected by structural racism or poverty? This will primarily benefit the business class, by developing future skilled laborers with Digital skills. 
  • Market Avenue Gateway – This project is directly connected to the Grand Action 2.0 Outdoor Amphitheater proposal, which is definitely happening. The area between Fulton and Wealthy Streets along the Grand River will be of massive benefit to the already grotesquely rich, like the DeVos family. This whole effort has seen the City of Grand Rapids spend millions of public dollars to benefit yet another private venture.
  • Outdoor Amphitheater – As was just mentioned above, but see the following link for more analysis.
  • Michigan State University Innovation Center Campus Expansion – The claim is that this project will address health disparities and health equity, but more research pointing out what we already know will not actually address health disparities, not while the Medical Industrial Complex is controlled in large part by hospital conglomerates, the Insurance Industry and the Pharmaceutical Cartel.  
  • Soccer Stadium – This is another Grand Action 2.0 effort that is being led primarily by Dick DeVos and Carol Van Andel. How much public money be spent on such a construction project, while the team will likely be owned privately? 

Now, all of these projects combined will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine for a moment, what hundreds of millions of dollars could do to alleviate poverty in this city and provide a guaranteed living wage to all those families currently experiencing poverty. Imagine how those hundreds of millions of dollars could be used to build good housing for the thousands of families who are experiencing housing insecurity in this city. Imagine if the City invested millions into urban agriculture, that would provide healthy produce to thousands of families experiencing food insecurity. Imagine if hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in dismantling Structural Racism, which could lead to abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex in Kent County. 

Again, we have to always ask who benefits from these so-called development projects, plus we have to radically imagine what would truly be transformational in this city. Remember, it is not a question of there being insufficient funds to address the serious social problems we face, it is always a matter of priorities. Those who run the City of Grand Rapids currently prioritize profit making over ending poverty, expanding their own wealth over dismantling Structural Racism.

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