Since as early as 1992, a DeVos and two others have been talking about holding Grand Prix races in downtown Grand Rapids. These races are held elsewhere in the country, although generally not on city streets. The noise is outrageous and can be heard over a mile away.
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, 1998.
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.
One of the major corporate sponsors is Exxon, of the Alaska oil spill fame. Promoters don’t seem to care what reputation the sponsors bring, so long as they bring money.
To set up for such a race, which would be held over a three day weekend and cover a circuit about 2 miles long, streets must be rotomilled and repaved. Manhole 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 of street improvements.” The DDA, dominated by rich, white men who do not live in 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. 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, other businesses 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 and NO students were invited. In short, business as usual.
When Craig Kinnear was asked why the planning group was so limited, he responded that any plan needs final city approval, and that public input could occur at that time. He touted the idea as, “an opportunity to showcase Grand Rapids.” Asked if he had any concerns about using Grand Rapids streets to “showcase” such exploitative companies as Exxon, he said simply, “No.”
Editor’s Note: In 1998 and 1999, the West Michigan Grand Prix was held in downtown Grand Rapids. Hundreds of residents, in places like the Morton House, were prevented from leaving or entering their residence and hundreds of workers also had limited access to the downtown area.
One can see from the video where part of the race route was located.