Grand Rapids city commissioners are giving open debate to the process in which they’ve become entangled, that of selling the 16-acre Public Works Island. That the commissioners are making every effort to “be fair” in the process provides an air of trust in the multiplicity of dealings involved in the sale of prime riverfront property. Such high-minded practices of fairness and inclusiveness should be regarded through the long timeline the city has established for a step-by-step process.
The decision of whether or not to open the Request For Proposals stage to all possible bidders, rather than the few who responded to the now finished “letters of interest” process, is less compelling, however, than open minds in an era of innovation to many ideas. Those ideas come from the private sector, not the public sector. The city may be overemphasizing its role in “creating” a development it wants. Until such time as a developer optioned property along the riverfront, the city was content to leave its heavy equipment along the banks of the Grand. The city had no vision for the property; a private developer did, and inspired others to look at Grand Rapids’ river bank.
The development and the process is not confined or defined by this community, but open to dreamers who are entrepreneurs. It is important for the city commission to track this process, rather than asking another committee to shoulder the work fraught with lobbying by parties with vested interests. Commissioners are directly responsible to city constituents. It should also consider the possibilities for new “constituents” and investment and assure that diversity — economic and ethnic — is welcome.
Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong has suggested that the RFP timeline be given up to six months, commenting, “Our job is to do the best we can to market that property.” Extended timelines may be necessary, especially if the city opens the process beyond those who have already indicated interest and suffered through the hoops of the “letters of intent” process. But the Business Journal is mindful that the process was originally initiated by one of the three developers who has played by city rules. The developer from Atlanta has already taken steps to option surrounding property. That the city would ask a business owner to show its intellectual property, and then allow for theft of that work by offering it to competitors is anything but fair.
The larger decision for the city in this process will be in relocating — and paying for — a new site to store its public works equipment. It’s time to move on; make the RFP only from those who have already proven interest and investment.