How Dick DeVos saved a city

Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second-largest city. Founded in the mid 1830s, it is also one of Michigan’s oldest continually inhabited locations. But like many other Michigan cities, as well as those located throughout the region of industrial decline known as the Rust Belt, Grand Rapids began to experience a period of urban decay throughout the 70s and 80s. This culminated in the late 1980s, when the city was on the verge of going the same direction as towns such as Detroit, Flint and Muskegon.

 

But one man, Dick DeVos, scion of the DeVos family, decided that he was not going to allow Grand Rapids to decline in the same way as other Michigan cities. DeVos believed that West Michigan had a unique supply of human capital, including a highly educated and talented employment base, with one of the strongest work ethics anywhere in the state.

 

Along with a number of other prominent business leaders in the city, DeVos convoked the first meeting of what would become known as Grand Action Group, a group dedicated to the revitalization of the downtown Grand Rapids area.

 

By the mid-1980s, Grand Rapids had been suffering from decades of urban neglect. Vast swathes of the city were crumbling. 100-year-old buildings that were no longer structurally sound made up a large portion of the city’s real estate stock. Grand Rapids was quickly going the way of both Flint and Detroit, with the productive sector of the population having long since before abandoned the urban core of the city. DeVos set out to change all of that.

 

First, the DeVos family acquired the historic Pantlind Hotel, creating one of Michigan’s first five-star hotels and building a 30-story glass tower that gave the modern Grand Rapids skyline its distinct, sleek look. DeVos also initiated development on the DeVos place convention center, one of the largest such facilities in the state and a driver of a huge amount of convention business to the city.

 

DeVos was also instrumental in the building of a large arena, which would eventually see a minor league hockey team as well as a brief 10 year for a semi-pro basketball team. The arena, named after DeVos’ business partner, has been a major source of economic revitalization for the downtown Grand Rapids area.

 

DeVos was also heavily involved in the creation of what’s known as the medical mile, an approximately mile long stretch of Michigan Street, which has turned Grand Rapids into one of the premier medical cities in the entire country.

 

Through these efforts, DeVos has almost single-handedly turned Grand Rapids around from its ineluctable trajectory towards urban collapse. The results could not be clearer. Today, Grand Rapids is one of the premier cities in which to live, work and visit in the Midwestern United States.

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