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Proposed soccer stadium in downtown Grand Rapids is a study in how the DeVos family gets what they want – ownership and massive profits

September 8, 2022

Do you ever feel like members of the Capitalist Class in Grand Rapids get to do whatever the hell they want to? Well, it sure seems that way, which is exactly why GRIID attempts to monitor and write about people and organizations that we identify as being part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

On September 1st, MiBiz reported that the group that is behind the soon to be realized outdoor amphitheater, Grand Action 2.0, is now looking to potentially develop land between Pearl and Bridge St on the near westside for a soccer stadium. A rendering of the potential site can be seen at the bottom of this article.

The MiBiz story also points out that the DeVos family (specifically DP Fox Ventures LLC) recently purchased 407 Pearl St. NW for $3.175 million. DF Fox Ventures LLC is one of the DeVos family holdings that is run by Dan and Pamella DeVos. The fact that Dan DeVos is behind the purchase of this property, which is one piece of a potential site for a new soccer stadium, makes complete sense, especially since Dan DeVos is the chairman of the NBA team, the Orlando Magic, is co-owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins and was owner of the now defunct arena football team, the Grand Rapids Rampage. 

In Dave Zirin’s book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, he discusses how wealthy sports team owners are constantly manipulating municipal governments and city residents to get them to provide massive subsidies for the construction of sports venues, like arena’s and stadiums. Zirin mentions how the DeVos family squeezed taxpayers in Orlando, when they wanted a new arena for their Orlando Magic basketball team. Zirin writes:

“And he’s (DeVos) is getting $1 billion in taxpayers’ money to build the arena. That sends a bad message. Indeed. At its core, the DeVos model could be characterized as theft of public funds that turns teams and arenas into slush funds for radical right politics.”

The MiBiz article cites Grand Action 2.0 spokesperson, Kara Wood, who used to work for the City of Grand Rapids. The article also cites Nick Wasmiller, who is the Director of Communications at RDV Corporation, even though the MiBiz article refers to him as a “DeVos Family spokesperson.” In addition, the article cites a memo about the potential soccer stadium, which was produced by the Right Place Inc., which has the current CEO of Amway on their Board of Directors and is a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

On Wednesday, MLive also wrote a story about the potential soccer stadium, although they didn’t really have any new information about the project. MLive did reach out to other contacts to get some feedback on this story, such as the PR firm Truscott Rossman. John Truscott was the Press Secretary for Michigan Governor John Engler, and he sits of the Board of Directors of the Grand Rapids Economic Club. Truscott Rossman also does PR work for the West Michigan Policy Forum, which is also a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. was also cited in the MLive article, as was a spokesperson for the City of Grand Rapids, along with Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss, who was quoted as saying, that “she was “excited about a project of this scale and the vibrancy it could add to our city and region.” 

Now, we all know that whenever Grand Action does a project, that the public ends up paying a significant portion of the cost, whether that is tax breaks by the city or the State of Michigan. This has been the case with every major project that Grand Action has been behind since they were founded. Here is a list of the Grand Action projects that have received significant public funding:

  • Van Andel Arena
  • DeVos Place
  • Meijer Majestic Theater
  • MSU Secchia Center
  • Grand Rapids Downtown Market
  • Downtown outdoor Amphitheater project – still in process

Despite the fact that the public has contributed large sums of money to these projects, and will to the soccer stadium, the public has no say in the matter. There will be no public vote on whether a soccer stadium gets built, nor who will own it. If the soccer stadium get built on in the area between Pearl and Bridge St., it will certainly have an impact on traffic, the need to create additional parking, and the likely displacement of existing residents or small businesses in the area. This kind of displacement has happened before. 

In the mid-1990s, when the Van Andel Arena was being built, that project took over existing City owned parking lots. At the same time, there was a development proposal in the works where the proposed soccer stadium might go on the westside. In the mid 1990’s, Jack Buchanan Jr. had the idea of re-developing the near westside. Buchanan bought up roughly 60 homes, continued to rent those spaces, but did nothing to maintain those properties. People were then forced to leave those rental properties, because Buchanan had plans to re-create that area, with office and residential space for members of the professional class. However, before all of the residents in the area had left, Chuck Peterson and myself, using equipment from GRTV, had interviewed a dozen different residents, all of which told us that Jack Buchanan Jr had not maintain the rental units. Some of those properties were so bad that when it rained, water would leak into the homes where people were living. People also told us that they were offered a 20 inch TV and one months rent if they agreed to leave and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

However, the project became too costly, so Buchanan ended up selling the land to the City of Grand Rapids, which constructed parking lots they needed because of the parking spaces that were displaced by the Van Andel Arena. Buchanan later tried to defraud the State of Michigan in another development project and went to jail in 2011.

The point of sharing this information is to say that the land that is being eyed as a potential site for the proposed soccer stadium, has a long history of rich people making bank, while screwing over working class families. 

Downtown Grand Rapids has an interesting history, with its origins being Settler Colonialism and the displacement of Indigenous communities. Since then downtown Grand Rapids has been a major hub for those with political and economic power to make and remake that part of the city, regardless of what the public thinks. Downtown Grand Rapids is like a playground for the members of the Capitalist Class, where they get what they want or they’ll throw a temper tantrum. And what they want is to continue to get the public to pay for their playground projects, while they sit back and watch their wealth exponentially increase. We should see the proposed soccer stadium as just the most recent example of the Capitalist Con, with the DeVos family being the primary beneficiaries. 

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