Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)
Since as early as 1992 DeVos and two others have been talking about holding “Grand Prix” races in downtown Grand Rapids. These races are held elsewhere in the country, though generally not on city streets! They involve loud, souped up cars that race repeatedly around a track.
Why? Good question!
At any rate, as one might gather from the presence of a DeVos, even such a crazy idea as this is no mere fantasy. In fact, it has been taken seriously by several City officials. Until recently, it was being planned-for July 1997. Now it is tentatively set for August 1998g.
Such an event is said to attract business to the area. In the eyes of some, that seems sufficient to justify virtually anything. Corporate sponsors would cover a good deal of the cost, and it is anticipated that many people would actually pay to witness these cars racing around (apparently they do so in other places).
One of the major corporate sponsors is Exxon, of Alaska oil spill fame. Promoters don’t seem to care what reputation the sponsors bring, so long as they bring their money.
To set up for such a race, which would be held over a three-day weekend and cover a circuit about two miles long, streets must be “rotomilled” and repaved. Manhole (sic) covers would have to be welded shut. Blockades must be set up to protect spectators and others. The route is proposed to fall within DDA (Downtown Development Authority) boundaries “so the DDA can be used as a financial resource to assist in the payment the street improvements.” The DDA, dominated by rich White males who do not live downtown, or necessarily even in the City, has control over millions of tax dollars that are diverted from schools and general government.
A committee supporting this idea says total costs of over $2.5 million would involve essentially no cost to the City other than some staff time. That staff time, in some cases at $30-$50 an hour, has perhaps already been considerable, though no estimate is available on total staff time cost. In addition, there is apparently no contemplation of rental charges for use of downtown streets. Of more concern, citizens would be barred from use of those streets during most of the three-day period of the event. Apparently no cost has been assigned, or even figured, for that loss of use.
In discussing the idea initially, one might think that the committee pushing for this event would want to get-the reaction of Grand Rapids citizens generally, and especially of those who live and/or work downtown. Not so! In setting up initial meetings to pursue the idea, Craig Kinnear, director of the Downtown Management Board, invited presidents or directors of GVSU, the Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Action Committee (a group of rich people who are responsible for the Arena, among other “development” projects), other business and tourist promotion groups, and owners/ managers of various large businesses downtown. NO average citizens were invited, NO residents or representatives of resident groups were invited, NO neighborhood association representatives were invited, NO workers or representatives of worker groups were invited, NO students were invited. In short–business as usual.
When Craig was asked why the planning group was so limited, co responded that any plan needs final City approval, and that public input could occur at that time. Co touted the idea as “an opportunity to showcase Grand Rapids:’ Asked if co had any concern about using Grand Rapids streets to “showcase” such exploitative companies as Exxon, co said simply, “No.”