Cars, and Now Cobo, Make Detroit Stand Out

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Detroit, MI – Sparkle isn’t a term that has often been applied to Detroit, but this Winter’s coming out party for the renovated Cobo Center added some new luster to the Motor City’s reborn downtown.

Five years and nearly $280 million after the ambitious overhaul began, Cobo has become a new jewel among U.S. convention centers and a new option for trade show organizers and meeting planners in the industrial Midwest.

“We wanted to provide a facility with everything that a customer could possibly want,” said Greg DeSandy, SMG’s director of sales for Cobo Center. “This is a flex space building.”

When the renovation project was launched, the multi-county Detroit Regional Convention Authority went the extra mile despite the uncertainty caused by the recession and Detroit’s demoralizing tumble into bankruptcy. Well beyond the installation of new carpeting, lighting and robust WiFi, the entire look of the center was changed. The most dramatic was the removal of the windowless wall on the south side, opening up a pleasant view of the busy Detroit River and creating the 40,000 square foot Riverview Ballroom. “We said: ‘Let’s open it up. It’s an amazing resource, so why brick it over?” DeSandy noted.

Cobo added 50,000 sf of flex space, and with 723,000 sf of prime exhibit space, it ranks 17th in the Trade Show Executive (TSE) directory of the World’s Top Convention Centers.

New HVAC equipment gives the interior air at Cobo a sweet quality any public building would envy, and the new 30,000 sf atrium area is spacious enough that it was used to stage a full concert by classic rockers The Steve Miller Band during the January Charity Preview party for the North American International Auto Show.

The big auto show’s preview party and public days gave more than 800,000 people from metro Detroit and nationwide a chance to take in all that is new at Cobo. The rest of the year is when show organizers can put the new space and features to their intended use.

“Every step they have taken has been a great improvement,” said Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association and show manager. Polan was overseeing the move-in of the February 14-22 Detroit Boat Show, which will grow from 300,000 sf of exhibit space in 2014 to 350,000 sf this year. The show is also expected to draw a good crowd, many of whom may be getting their first look at the inside of the new Cobo. “There is a lot of interest in seeing what Cobo is doing,” Polan told TSE. “You see it on the news or read about it in the newspaper, and you want to see it in person.”

One of the best new features for the Boat Show and other Winter events is the enclosed loading docks equipped with automatic doors, which makes move-in much more tolerable. “It used to be that when the doors went up, you would be right outside,” Polin said. “This keeps the hall at a comfortable temperature.”

Spring will allow organizers to incorporate the public areas along the river into their plans and invite attendees to take a short walk inland and enjoy the nightlife of downtown’s Greektown district.

Detroit continues moving forward in a long campaign to rebuild and reinvent itself, and bringing Cobo Center into the 21st Century gives show organizers and attendees a reason to give the Motor City a test drive.

Reach Greg DeSandy at (313) 877-8214 or gdesandy@cobocenter.com; Diane Polan at (734) 261-0123, x4, or npolan@mbia.org