Skip to content

The City of Grand Rapids unanimously approved the new $116M land purchase for Amphitheater project: Why those who run the City always get what they want

March 30, 2022

At Tuesday Grand Rapids City Commission Committee of the Whole session, city officials unanimously approved the next phase in the process to make the 12,000 seat amphitheater a reality. 

The presentation by the the Assistant City Manager used lots of slides and lots of progressive language, but it failed to address who was really driving this whole money making scheme – often referred to as development – from the very beginning. You can watch the video, where the discussion about the Amphitheater project begins at 2 hours and 15 minutes in.

The amphitheater project, along with other money making interests, was a project that came from Grand Action 2.0. You remember, the private entity that came up with the idea of building the downtown arena and the downtown market. Grand Action 2.0 is currently being led by Dick DeVos, Tom Welch and Carol Van Andel, along with a bunch of other power brokers that make up the Executive and Advisory Committee.

We first reported on the latest money making scheme from Grand Action 2.0 back in October of 2020, with a headline that read, With thousands of families struggling with the pandemic economy in Grand Rapids, Grand Action is proposing a downtown Amphitheater.

We followed up on the initial article and wrote a second piece in November of 2020, focusing on how much public money would be used and how this same kind of public funding for a single project doesn’t happen in neighborhoods with a majority Black and Brown residents.

In late November of 2020, Grand Action 2.0 brought in a speaker and consultant to talk about the amphitheater project and other riverfront money making plans as well. One thing that was discussed was the importance of talking with stakeholders. Stakeholders is often code for those who have power and privilege, as is evidenced by the majority of those who were invited to give input in the graphic here.

The next GRIID article on the amphitheater project was published in February of 2021, where we talked a bit about some of the land being used for this project was owned by the DeVos family. In addition, we discussed how the Convention Arena Authority (CAA) was run by people who are connected to the Grand Rapids Power Structure or represent other corporate interests.

Then in June of 2021, we posted another article looking at an updated cost of public money for the amphitheater project and wondered how the city could continue to justify this kind of public money that will benefit those who are already disgustingly rich during a time that the pandemic was raging thousands of people were potentially facing eviction in Grand Rapids.

We think it is important to refer to the past articles we have posted, especially since the local commercial news media has not asked these kinds of questions, not challenged who are the player pushing for these money making schemes along the riverfront. 

Beyond the fact that this project was driven by Grand Action 2.0, a second point to discuss the the amount of public money being used in the process with limited public input. After the announcement of the riverfront money making project, the City agreed to pay $6,252,643 for the sewage system upgrade/relocation along Market Ave. The City then agreed to spend $2 million to convert Market Ave. into a downtown street. Then there was the $7.45 Million the City agreed to pay for the relocation of the Kent County Road Commission site. Lastly, the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority or the Grand Rapids Brownfield Authority would borrow $20 million to finance the project. All together, that means the City, which includes the DDA, would spend roughly $35.7 Million of public money, with little public input.

A third point to make here, is to ask the question, when was the last time that the City of Grand Rapids spent $35.7 Million on a project that would specifically benefit the Black community or any other marginalized community in this city? In fact, we could expand this question to include the amount of money that is estimate to be spent on the larger 31 acre riverfront development (includes the amphitheater), which is $500 Million. When was the last time the City of Grand Rapids spent $500 Million to benefit the BIPOC community in this city?

Fourth, during the Committee of the Whole meeting, there was a great deal of discussion and affirmations around the fact that, 1) there would be between 1500 – 1700 new housing units included in the riverfront development project (including affordable housing), and 2) that there would likely be a built in mechanism to funnel some of the profits from this project into the City’s Affordable Housing Fund. I’m glad that they are thinking about affordable housing, but they are missing the point here. When construction companies decide to build “affordable housing,” they always apply for state funds (meaning public funds) to subsidize their total costs. This is great for construction companies and private developers, but the problem with affordable housing is not just the construction costs, it is the fact that there are thousands of people living in this city that do not make a livable wage. The real solution is to make sure everyone has a livable wage, since even the affordable housing is a lot more expensive that many can afford.

This brings us back to the primary beneficiaries of this project, those connected to Grand Action 2.0 and the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Since they are the primary owners of the land/property in the downtown area, they will reap the profits of the amphitheater construction, since it will make Grand Rapids an even more attractive destination city for tourists. (Several City officials made reference to Grand Rapids being a destination city during the discussion on Tuesday.) Grand Action 2.0 Executive Committee members control most of the hotels downtown, many restaurants, bars and non-city controlled parking. This is why these people push these kinds of projects, because they will be the primary beneficiaries in the long run. Plus, these are the same people who spent millions on electing candidates at the city, county, state and federal level, politicians that vote for public policies to benefit the billionaire class, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, give a pass to corporate polluters, attack unions, promote systemic racism and harm the LGBTQ community. 

Now, several City officials did say that will have inclusive and equitable plans in the larger riverfront development moving forward, which means they want to give contracts to as many minorities companies as possible. I certainly wouldn’t discourage this, but the fact is that most BIPOC people are not business owners, they are workers. The City can use all of the equity and inclusion language they want, but it will not impact most BIPOC or white working class people. 

Lastly, the amphitheater project has been called one of the transformational projects in the City of Grand Rapids. Maybe it is time we start asking ourselves why development projects/money making projects are considered transformative instead of immigrant justice work, dismantling White Supremacy, ending poverty, food sovereignty or smashing homophobia and transphobia work as transformational? There is nothing transformational about projects that primarily benefit those who already have the most economic and political pow in this city. 

%d bloggers like this: