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GRIID Year in Review Part III – Monitoring the Grand Rapids Power Structure

December 27, 2022

In Part I of our Year in Review for 2022, we looked at how the local news media (mis)reported on critical issues in Grand Rapids. In Part II, we looked back at what the Far Right in West Michigan was doing over the past year. Today, we want to look back at the actions and influence of the Grand Rapids Power Structure in 2022. 

The Grand Rapids Power Structure can best be defined in the graphic above, but for our purposes today, we are going to focus on economic power, political power and state power.

Economic Power in Grand Rapids

Over the past year, those with tremendous wealth have continued to exert their influence over the general public. We know the names of these families and entities, what we often don’t know the details of how they function, primarily because they are not committed to transparency.

Part of our look at economic power dynamics when it comes to members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, always includes how they defend their own economic interests, while at the same time taking credit for “innovative projects.” In March of 2022, we saw a great example of how wealthy elites engaged in a bit of deception around a housing program they are backing. The GR Chamber of Commerce announced a new workforce housing plan, which GRIID responded to, writing:

The language from the announcement is instructive, in that it states that the goal, “was to create workforce housing for individuals and families employed in Ottawa County who were unable to afford to live there.” Now, any reasonable person would ask themselves why can’t workers afford to live in the communities that they work in? The simple answer is because these individuals and families don’t make enough to afford the cost of housing in the communities that they work in.

Another major economic-driven project GRIID has been following for a few years, is the proposed downtown outdoor amphitheater project. In late March, the City of Grand Rapids unanimously approved a land sale worth $116 Million, paving the way for the proposed amphitheater project. Then in June, it was announced that the State of Michigan would likely be providing $30 Million in public funds for the downtown amphitheater project, despite the fact that the public had no say in this. Finally, in November it was announced that the downtown amphitheater project would be run by the Kent County Convention Arena Authority, an entity which is essentially run by the GR Power Structure.

There were also a few land deals involving the DeVos family. In September, local news agencies reported that there was a new proposal to build a soccer stadium in downtown Grand Rapids, one that had a DeVos connection. GRIID did more digging and connected the dots on this project. Then in November, GRIID reported on a new land purchase by the DeVos family in the city’s 2nd Ward. What we discovered is that the land was purchased by a DeVos family member and that the developer involved int he project is also connected to the DeVos family. 

GRIID also critiqued the annual 200 most powerful business leaders edition of the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

However, one of the biggest stories of 2022, was the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce push to criminalize the unhoused. In early September, the GR Chamber sent a letter to Grand Rapids City officials, complaining about how downtown businesses were being negatively impacted by the unhoused, plus their demand to increased GRPD presence. This initial letter was followed up by a second letter in early December, where the GR Chamber included a proposed ordinance that would punish the unhoused. Lastly, 120 so-called leaders, signed on to the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance, primarily because of their economic interests. 

Political Power/Influence by the GR Power Structure

2022 was an election year in Michigan, so the Grand Rapids Power Structure certainly used their economic power to influence election races. GRIID reported on campaign finance dynamics involving the GR Power Structure in February, April, and just before the August primary, which also included how much money the DeVos family contributed to the GOP Gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon. 

However, even larger amounts of campaign contributions came just before the November 8th election, specifically with State Representative and State Senate races. However, the major political intrigued was all the money that was injected into Grand Rapids City Commission races, particularly money coming from the Grand Rapids Police Union and the GR Chamber of Commerce. There was also a tremendous amount of money coming from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, particularly in the 1st and 3rd Ward City Commission races.

Grand Rapids City government power, often in service to economic power

One last area of how systems of power work together, was how the City of Grand Rapids used its own power, which is often in service to the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

For instance, in January, the process the City of Grand Rapids used during their search for a new Chief of Police, the city held public forums, despite the fact that the City Manager ultimately made the decision. In March, it was announced that the outgoing Chief of Police, Eric Payne, was stepping down. Unfortunately, the local news just used the narrative created by the City of Grand Rapids, a manufactured narrative that the local news ran with.

In April, GRIID wrote about all of the tax money the City of Grand Rapids was getting from cannabis sales. We proposed that all of that money go towards reparations for those most impacted by the War on Drugs. GRIID also wrote about the Downtown Development Authority’s decision to expand their geographical area, which means more tax dollars would be captured, specifically for the purpose of benefiting downtown businesses.

Lastly, it was announced that the DeVos family would no longer be running ArtPrize. However, the City of Grand Rapids agreed to step in and create another public/private partnership that would not only mean more public money and city staff time would be used for ArtPrize, those who have been economically benefiting from the annual art spectacle, would continue to reap the monetary rewards, without having to front the money to run the annual art event. GRIID wrote about what the City of Grand Rapids is calling ArtPrize 2.0, both in November and December.

In Part IV, we will look at the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya and how the City of Grand Rapids has responded to this injustice. 

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