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Using Public Money to benefit Wealthy Elites: The Downtown Development Authority wants to expand their area in order to capture more property taxes

July 20, 2022

On Monday, MLive reported that Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) is looking to expand their boundaries in order to capture more tax money for development.

The MLive article states: 

Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said his organization is exploring whether to expand the DDA’s tax collecting boundaries to include the area around 201 Market Ave. SW, the site of a proposed 12,000 seat amphitheater and other potential development.

Later on, the article clarifies that there will be additional development projects such as apartments, retail space, parks and trails. 

In addition, the MLive provides readers with this bit of information: 

The DDA doesn’t collect tax revenue from the site now because it’s owned by the city of Grand Rapids.

However, by adding the property to the DDA’s tax capture plan, the DDA could begin collecting revenue from the site should it one day come on to the tax rolls.

If the property wasn’t added to the DDA but went on the tax rolls, property tax revenue from the site would go to the the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Grand Rapids Community College, and The Rapid.

This last sentence should raise eyebrows and concerns from anyone who is interested in seeking any kind of equity, since as the article makes clear, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) uses the property tax revenue from the downtown area and they get to decide how that money is use, which is always to further development plans in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Now, maybe people have been aware of this fact, that the DGRI, through the use of the DDA, are able to capture property tax revenue and use it solely for the benefit of the downtown. The DDA website affirms this by saying:

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is a funding tool Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. administers to help catalyze public and private investment in Grand Rapids urban core. Funds go to help expedite private development projects, put underutilized property back to productive use, build streets and public infrastructure, as well as maintain and expand parks and other public amenities.

This means that a 9 member board of the Downtown Development Authority, a group of people that are appointed and NOT elected, get to make these decisions about property tax money. On top of that the DDA Board is made up of the Mayor of Grand Rapids, former Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, the President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, a corporate lawyer and 5 business representatives, two of which work for the DeVos family – Greg McNeilly and Richard Winn. 

This also isn’t the first time that the DGRI/DDA boundaries have expanded, such as in 2016, when they proposed to expand an additional 200 acres.

Unfortunately, this issue is completely off the radar for most people, people who are just trying to figure out how to pay the bills with all the increases in gas, food and housing costs. And this is exactly why people should be aware, concerned and organized to oppose the DDA expansion. We need to demand that the DGRI/DDA not be allowed to expand and should give up their ability to capture property tax revenue that they then have control over. 

If the City of Grand Rapids and the people of Grand Rapids want property tax money, which is PUBLIC MONEY, to be used for affordable housing, to lower the cost of mass transit or to provide economic relief to the thousands of families in this community that are struggling to survive, then that is exactly what this public money should be used for. The members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and other wealthy elites can actually practice free market capitalism and pay for their own damn development projects without using public money. They will just have to wait for people to spend money at their establishments to make the money back that they invested in, just like everybody else. This is a great example of how participatory budgeting could be applied to meet the need of the most vulnerable in this city.

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