As early as 1991, Dick DeVos would prove to be an innovator voice when it came to hometown reconstruction and rehabilitation. At the time, he was working in the family business. DeVos, whose family owned Amway Corp., was headed on the path to becoming the company’s CEO.
It was a path that could have easily allowed DeVos to rest on his laurels and not take an interest in the city around him. He could have easily sat back and enjoyed the substantial money that he stood to make from his career path in the Amway Corp.
But in 1991, DeVos saw that Grand Rapids, Michigan was headed down a path that he disagreed with, and he felt compelled to speak up and stop it if he could.
In that year, Grand Rapids planned on building a major multi-purpose sports and convention arena in the northern part of downtown. DeVos had seen this type of construction project before, in the city of Detroit two decades prior. In the 1970s, the Lions and Pistons left Detroit and the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills’ construction became increasingly detrimental to downtown Detroit.
DeVos would later state that the lesson of Detroit’s construction problem “was not lost” on him. In fact, it was Detroit’s experience and the fear that Grand Rapids would follow a similar path that made DeVos pick up the phone and start making calls to try to lobby against the construction of the convention arena.
DeVos was successful in his campaign against the arena. As a result, Grand Action was formed. The group was made up of several business leaders who would end up permanently changing the economic make-up of Grand Rapids. Under the oversight of Grand Action, the city would see the rise of all of the following projects: Grand Rapids City Market, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center, Michigan State University’s medical school and the DeVos Performance Hall.
Although his work in forming Grand Action would be the first significant improvement project that DeVos would be a part of, it would certainly not be the last. In the time since, DeVos has played a vital role in bringing Southwest Airlines to Grand Rapids. As an acknowledgement of his efforts, he was appointed as part of a top civilian panel in the Federal Aviation Administration.
DeVos has always been a firm proponent of charter schools. This is a position that he shares with his wife, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
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