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DeVos-led Amphitheater Project will likely receive $30 Million in State public money, with no public input

June 5, 2022

On Friday, MLive posted a story with the headline, Grand Rapids leaders ‘very hopeful’ state budget will include $30M for riverfront amphitheater. 

The MLive article basically includes comments from a number of the players involved in the 12,000 seat outdoor amphitheater project, all of which are celebrating the fact that the State Budget includes $30 Million for this project. 

The first source cited in the article is that of Birgit Klohs, former CEO of the Right Place Inc., and now the vice chair of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority (CAA). Her comment was , “The amphitheater is the next big placemaking project in Grand Rapids.”

The rest of those cited in the article are two representatives of Grand Action 2.0, State Representative David LaGrand and Thomas Albert, along with State Senator Mark Huizenga. Each of those cited offer up pleasantries about the amphitheater project without any real evidence. Rep. David LaGrand even makes the claim, “I think this is the opposite of pork. I think this is an investment in the community. This is not quick giveaways. This is making Grand Rapids a better place to live and work.” 

Ok, but where is the evidence. How is $30 Million of public money, which is going to a project that will be managed by the Convention Arena Authority and was crafted by Grand Action 2.0 going to make Grand Rapids a better place to live and work? How?

This is the kind of shoddy journalism we have come to expect from MLive, where any and all development projects are greeted with enthusiasm, especially if they receive public funds. If we had honest journalism in this city, then it would be easy to find the common denominator in the 12,000 seat outdoor amphitheater project that has been present since this idea first became public in 2020. The common denominator has always been the DeVos family. 

This whole project is projected to involve $119 million, between the City of Grand Rapids, the Convention and Arena Authority, the DeVos-owned 63 Market St LLC, and now the State of Michigan. This is a great deal of money, which demonstrates that when a multi-billionaire family, the DeVos family, wants something, they usually get it. Sure, building an outdoor amphitheater will bring more people, including more tourists to Grand Rapids, which means more money will be spent in the city. But, we must always ask ourselves who are the primary beneficiaries of such projects?

The primary beneficiary will be the DeVos family, since they own several hotels in the downtown area, a restaurant and a wine bar. The other beneficiaries will be other major property owners in the downtown area, many of which are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Parking dollars go to the City of Grand Rapids and Ellis Parking. Most of the restaurants and bars owned in the downtown area are owned by those who own multiple establishments. It is true that all of the bars and the hotels rely on workers, but those workers will generally not see an increase in pay, which means the majority of the money will go to the ownership class, some of whom are millionaires and billionaires.

The graphic here below illustrates how the DeVos family is essentially the primary factor in making the amphitheater project a reality. 

One last aspect of this project that has also not been explored by the dominant commercial news media, is the fact that $30 Million of State funds, which are public dollars, will likely go to this entertainment-project. When was the last time that state and local officials were able to easily get $30 Million that would go directly to the thousands of families in Grand Rapids that are struggling to pay rent, who have little to no health care, are food insecure and are suffering from exploitation and systemic racism in this city? Yet we are told that the Amphitheater will make Grand Rapids a better place to live and work.

Sources used for this post and graphic:

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