During the year 1991, a concept was pitched to the public in Grand Rapids, Michigan to construct a multi-function event center for sports and other purposes in the downtown area.
In the early 1990s, Dick Devos was working for his family’s large marketing business called the Amway Corporation. Devos was well on his way to becoming Amway’s CEO and was already very influential in the state of Michigan. However, he was adamantly against the downtown convention center idea that was being pitched around to the people of Grand Rapids. Devos had good reason to be concerned.
In the 1970s, Detroit’s professional basketball and professional football franchises left the city because of the Pontiac Silverdome getting built in Pontiac, Michigan and the construction of the Palace of Auburn Hills, which is also outside Detroit. The Pontiac Silverdome was demolished in 2017. The construction of these two sports complexes decimated the economy of downtown Detroit.
Devos was worried that the same thing would happen to his hometown if the construction of this new sporting complex occurred. So he started calling around to express his concerns and build a coalition of lobbyists who would assist him in making sure that the new multi-purpose convention center on the outskirts of the critical central business district of Grand Rapids would not be built.
Devos and a group of other Grand Rapids-based leaders in business started an organization called Grand Action. This firm was full of corporate visionaries who were responsible for building the an Andel Arena, the Devos Place Convention Center, the Grand Rapids City Market and the medical school facility at Michigan State University.
Devos put together a team of 50 West Michigan community leaders and volunteers from the business, labor, civic, academic and sports sectors to analyze this new convention center idea in Grand Rapids and figure out a way around building a vast facility right outside the city’s central business district. The Detroit lesson had to be remembered and not forgotten, Devos told Crain’s Deroit Business.
Devos and his wife Betsy both come from wealthy Michigan families who have been multi-generational trailblazers in the world of business, education, and philanthropy. However, the lobbying influence of this Michigan power couple has not always been supported by Michigan voters. In 2000, the Devos’ plan for a constitutional amendment to provide taxpayer-funded vouchers for children to attend private schools was unsuccessful.
Also in 2006, the Dick Devos for Governor campaign did not result in a political victory for the wealthy Amway heir. However, the Devoses have continued to remain steadfast in their political contributions and to this day, still are two of the Republican Party’s biggest mega-donors. Currently, 24 U.S. states (including Washington D.C.) have taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs.
Richard Devos, Dick Devos’ father co-founded the Amway Corporation in 1959. His wife Betsy’s father was Edgar Prince, founder of the Prince Corporation, a manufacturing business that primarily supplied companies in the automotive industry. Dick Devos has a personal net worth of $5.1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
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