Michigan Gets Cobo Expansion into Gear

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Detroit, MI – Michigan lawmakers approved a plan to expand Detroit’s Cobo Center and prevent its marquee event, the North American International Auto Show, from relocating to a venue with more elbow room.

A package of bills passed June 26 will turn the management of the city-owned downtown convention hall over to a five-member regional authority that will run the building for the next 30 years. The agency will also oversee an expansion and renovation that will be paid for with a $300 million revenue stream from existing hotel and liquor taxes as well as other development funds.

The goal is to expand Cobo as quickly as possible to prevent the auto show from moving to a city with a larger venue, which could happen as early as 2011. The Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau said this week that it was too early in the process to know the scope and schedule of the expansion.

Cobo, which was built in 1960 and expanded in 1989, currently has 700,000 net square feet of exhibit space. The Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), which organizes the auto show, has not laid out any minimum requirements for additional space to keep the event in Detroit. Show managers have said publicly that the event has routinely filled Cobo to capacity in recent years.

A similar expansion plan that was rejected in the Spring by the Detroit City Council would have added 166,000 square feet of space to the center. The council turned down the plan over concerns the city was giving up control of a valuable asset and there were not enough guarantees that contracts and jobs connected to the expansion project would go to city residents.

The expansion plan was still not a done deal as of July 1. The city council has until August 1 to either accept the new regional agency or reject it. In the event of a rejection, however, Mayor Dave Bing has the power to veto the council’s decision and has indicated he would do just that.

In the event that the Cobo expansion plan does fall through, the state has a backup plan that would expand Rock Financial Showplace in Novi to the dimensions needed to accommodate the auto show. Although Novi is located in the far western suburbs of Detroit – closer to Ann Arbor than to downtown Detroit – lawmakers and the DADA figure it would at least keep the event in Michigan rather than another state.

Rock Financial Showplace currently has 214,000 net square feet of exhibit space and would be expanded by around 936,000 overall square feet. The facility currently hosts a large calendar of events with emphasis on consumer shows. It is located 20 minutes from Detroit International Airport and has more than 1,500 hotel rooms in the immediate area.

Reach Tom Tuskey, Cobo Center executive director, at (313) 877-8777 or tuskeyt@detroitmi.gov