Although Dick DeVos is known to most people for his 2006 gubernatorial run in the state of Michigan, the veteran entrepreneur and business magnate has only dedicated a tiny fraction of his total career to politics. In fact, if you ask anyone from Grand Rapids, Michigan who Dick DeVos is, they’re likely to tell you that he is one of the town’s local heroes. At a time when Grand Rapids was facing the same dire fate as many other Rust Belt cities across the state of Michigan, DeVos stood up and delivered, saving Grand Rapids from the urban decay and rapid economic decline that afflicted so many other Midwestern cities.
Motor City no more
As someone who had long been involved at a hands-on level in the development of education solutions for the failing Detroit Public School System, DeVos had first-hand, up-close knowledge of exactly how bad things can get when all of a city’s economic opportunities dry up, and its entire political class lets it down. DeVos got a front-row seat to the devastation of Detroit, largely caused by decisions that led to the fleeing of most business from the city.
By the late-1980s, Grand Rapids was in a very similar situation to what Detroit had looked like in the early 1970s. It was clear to many of the city’s business leaders that steps needed to be immediately taken to stop the progressive urban blight that was engulfing the Downtown area. The city featured block after block of abandoned warehouses and once-thriving factories. The neighborhoods on the Southeast and West sides were also beginning to show signs of serious urban decay, with houses being newly abandoned that apparently had little to no market value.
Many of the area’s top business leaders understood that something had to be done quickly in order to prevent the same sort of spiraling urban decay that would eventually lead to a Detroit-style exodus, taking all of the businesses and productive classes away and leaving a hollowed out urban core. DeVos was the one person who decided to take action.
He convened a committee of the area’s leading businessmen. The organization was dubbed the Grand Action Committee, a name that signified that the group tended to do far more than sit around and have intellectual policy discussion. DeVos himself was one of the first members of the Grand Action Committee to pledge serious quantities of his personal fortune for use in the redevelopment of the Downtown Grand Rapids area.
One of the first projects that DeVos undertook was the construction of the sprawling DeVos Place convention center, the largest convention center of its type in the Great Lakes region, outside of the McCormick Place in Chicago. Another development of huge import to the city that DeVos personally funded was the Medical Mile, a one-mile stretch of Michigan Ave that features some of the most advanced medical facilities in the United States. The Medical Mile has attracted some of the top medical talent from around the world, giving Grand Rapids the reputation of being a center of innovation in many healthcare subdisciplines.
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