Caution, financial issues give pause to GR projects


When Grand Action steps to the podium regarding community projects — projects that in the past have created long-term economic growth in Grand Rapids — business pays attention. The group of private investors who famously created partnerships with public entities, such as the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County and the state of Michigan, to plan and construct venues like Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place convention center provided impetus for other investments that helped create the entertainment district in downtown. It was no different last week, when Grand Action co-chair David Frey stepped to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids podium to provide new potential goals for the community investor group — just after a Minneapolis consultant (and Experience Grand Rapids and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.) presented evaluations of what the city needs next to reach another level of growth.

The Business Journal calls attention to that juxtaposition of plan development and cautions against assumptions 2016 is at all similar to Grand Action’s beginnings in 1990 and anything borrowing the Grand Action brand should not prompt an automatic applause line. The Business Journal is equally certain the Kent County Board of Commissioners, the cautious partner in the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Arena Authority, will be most conservative in the back room of pre-agreements.

The proposed developments presented for public consumption all totaled will amount to billions in investments, both public and private, including: a $40-million soccer stadium, a $20-million 12-to-20 field sports complex, a 500-room hotel (adjacent or near) DeVos Place, which also is on the list for expansion. The holiday wish list also includes prompts for riverfront development in addition to redevelopment of the Grand River rapids and related recreational plans. The partners in these developments include the nonprofit West Michigan Sports Commission.

The Business Journal has unresolved concerns about several issues related to the developments that do not provide secure footing for the past projects now left to public sector financial support and oversight.

  • The Grand Rapids Downtown Market project (another Grand Action initiative) again this year delayed a debt repayment to the state of Michigan on its $3-million loan.
  • The Downtown Market, whose tenants include nonprofits that report financials, claims that it is above transparent financial reporting as a nonprofit entity created by the Downtown Development Authority … which also gave birth to Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., authorized to oversee the city’s downtown, its brownfield redevelopment funds, its tax increment financing authorities, Downtown Building Owners Association payments and its ever-expanding “downtown” boundaries. Downtown Market’s revolving door of vendors also is of concern.
  • The Convention and Arena Authority reported expenditures well above revenues, borrowing from the more successful arena profits to pay for debt at the convention center.
  • These projects begin with public — not private — funding prospects from taxpayers.

It is of concern public tax funds provided to the city of Grand Rapids are given little oversight between the layers of DDA control and DGRI authority over the funds.

The proposed plans conjuring the Grand Action brand would appear to be pretense, added to issues with past taxpayer-funded projects given increasingly little oversight by elected city and county leaders.

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