When the city of Grand Rapids decided to build an all-purpose convention center, Dick DeVos didn’t think it was a sound idea — and proceeded to let planning officials know.
DeVos’ hesitation was not spurned from a random notion. It was based on a proven, previous venture the city embarked upon. During the 1970s, part of Detroit’s pride was unhinged when two prominent athletic teams, the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Lions, were struggling to maintain a competitive rank in its national arenas. To counter that sense of defeat, two structures, Palace of Auburn Hills and Pontiac Silverdome, were built to bolster city confidence and regional pride. It did not work. What was meant to be a boost became a bane. DeVos remembered it and lobbied against a structural repeat of that failure.
Although his wildly popular family business, Amway Corp, was booming and he was set to become the CEO, DeVos’ concern for diverting another disaster for Detroit drove him to fight against the convention center plan. Instead, he brought together groups that strategized for other structures that wouldn’t detract from the city. His plan was to increase its profile with successful buildings. It worked.
As a result, Grand Action was formed. This committee of business-minded visionaries spurred the creation of Grand Rapids City Market, the DeVos Place Convention Center, Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Performance Hall. Their dedicated efforts even lead to the creation of a medical school at Michigan State. By incorporating these buildings into the city itself, Grand Rapids received a long-needed infusion of national respect and local pride.
While this was a sweet deal for Detroit, DeVos’ insight into what would work best for the city isn’t surprising. Between him and his wife, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the pair has long been a driving force for positive change and innovation. Focusing on labor, DeVos heavily lobbied for workplace freedom that did not force employees to belong to unions in order to get jobs. On the education front, DeVos and his wife made sure to contribute millions of dollars to organizations that support policies to improve educational policies and freedom for families to choose how their children are educated. He also helped bring a children’s hospital to fruition, a place where families could attend to their sick children without losing their jobs.
In Grand Rapids, he was instrumental in getting passengers lower airfare while increasing commerce for Gerald R. Ford International Airport. His efforts did not go unnoticed by the highest of offices either. In 2017, President Trump appointed DeVos to the top tier of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) board.
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