Today’s edition of the Grand Rapids Press featured an article trumpeting the pending construction of many upscale residences in downtown Grand Rapids, including:
- The new Marriott Hotel being built by Amway (Alticor) (recipient of various tax breaks)
- The Icon on Bond condominium project (prices range from $187,000 to $422,000, tax-free)
- The conversion of the YMCA into the “upscale” Fitzgerald condominiums.
In addition to the projects mentioned in the paper, numerous other condo projects have been proposed and are being developed in downtown. While the prices of the condos make it clear that they are primarily targeting the wealthy, the City has made some of the projects “Renaissance Zones” thus exempting the projects from City, State, and property taxes. This designation is based on the assumption that the owners will contribute greatly to the downtown economy through their patronage of local businesses.
Much of the recent development in downtown Grand Rapids seems modeled after Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory, who argues in his books that it is primarily young professionals employed in “creative” occupations that drive development in downtown areas. Among his more controversial suggestions is the idea that these young people want to “live like tourists” in their own town with a vibrant and extravagant nightlife and similarly designed housing options. Recent construction seems based on his theory with housing options targeting the “sub-30” demographic with relatively little new housing for low-income residents.
Not surprisingly, the local corporate media has been largely silent on how the new housing projects will affect the demographics of downtown and has instead chosen to celebrate the redevelopment. According to census data analyzed the Community Research Institute (CRI), some 44% of residents in Heartside live in poverty, a number that excludes the large homeless population that lives in the area. Generally, as cities experience redevelopment the high income residents that move into downtown areas typically begin to complain about homelessness, creating a situation in which homelessness is criminalized. While there are no indications that this has happened in Grand Rapids, the potential is there, especially in light of the recent eviction of homeless people from Heartside Park.