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Plans Unveiled For Renovation of Cobo Center

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East Aerial


Interview: 2011 Auto Show Vice-Chair Jim Seavitt talks with WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert about Cobo renovation plan.

DETROIT (WWJ) – Plans to renovate Cobo Center are finally coming to fruition.

The new plan includes a large glass atrium, windows overlooking the Detorit river, a giant message board facing downtown Detroit, and 150 thousand more square feet of exhibit place.  All of the work is expected to be finished in time for the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

“We are going to rise to, I think, not only the best press show, but one of the best public shows,”  says Jim Seavitt, vice-chair of the 2011 auto show.  “I think it will be a great facelift.”


Animation of Cobo Center of the future.

According to DRCFA, its plans for Cobo include:

–The reinvention of Cobo Arena as a 40,000-square foot ballroom with supporting meeting, pre-function and back-of-house spaces. The new ballroom will feature a glass wall and open-air terrace facing Hart Plaza and Detroit’s downtown to the east, as well as pre-function space with a panoramic view of the Detroit River and the international border with Canada to the south.

–The creation of a new “signature space” for Cobo Center in the form of a spacious three-story glass atrium that links the main floor of the venue with a new entrance facing the Detroit River, bringing the lower-level exhibition space more naturally into the flow of a meeting or convention and linking Cobo Center more fully to Detroit’s revitalized riverfront.

–Significant renovation to the building’s primary facade on the east side facing downtown Detroit. The primary element will be a high-tech “media mesh” that will function as a giant digital signboard welcoming conventions and guests to Detroit and to the new Cobo Center. Additional elements include a new entrance to the recently-developed food court, improved protection from the elements for arriving guests and increased use of glass in exterior walls to tie events at Cobo Center more closely into the surrounding city.

–Reconfiguration of most meeting and breakout room space throughout the venue, especially along the south side of the facility along the Detroit River, to meet the needs of today’s meeting and event planners. The majority of the exterior walls along the river will be replaced by high-efficiency glass walls to take advantage of Cobo’s riverside location and update Detroit’s signature river skyline view for the 21st Century.

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While organizers of the auto show have been asking for more space, Seavitt says this plan does more than just expand Cobo Center.

“It isn’t necessarily the square feet that we’re excited about, although we are.  It’s the fact of what they’ll look like.”

Seavitt comparing the Cobo atrium to the new wingergarden at GM’s Ren Cen headquarters.  He’s also excited about the dramatic views of the Detroit River from inside Cobo.

“It’s almost like having a home on the lake with no windows,” he said of the current Cobo layout, which doesn’t emphasize the riverfront location.  “We had the wonderful riverfront, and no way to get at it.”

In addition to the major updates outlined above, DRCFA says a number of other significant changes will be made to Cobo Center that will improve customer experience, reduce customer costs, improve reliability, enhance safety and security, improve operational efficiency, save energy, reduce environmental impact and integrate Cobo Center better into the surrounding downtown.

“We are making the changes to Cobo Center that our customers, stakeholders and competitive research have told us are necessary to return Cobo to an industry-leading status that will assist in attracting meetings and conventions to Metro Detroit,” said Larry Alexander, chairman of the DRCFA Board of Directors.

“We are not satisfied with `good enough.’ This plan leapfrogs Cobo Center over competitive convention centers and gives Metro Detroit a cornerstone facility worthy of our region’s proven ability to host world-class events.”

Plans call for work to begin immediately and construction will be planned around existing commitments at Cobo Center so as not to disrupt access to the facility or events being held there.

The project will add an additional 25 thousand square feet, in time for the 2012 auto show.  Organizers say that space is already spoken for, with Porsche’s return to the show this year, and Nissan’s return next year.

Plans call for all major projects to be completed by the 2014 North American International Auto Show in January, with full project completion expected by December, 2014.

Organizers of the show at one point considered moving to the suburbs. 

“Back three years ago, it was a struggle because we needed more space,” said the show’s Jim Seavitt.  “We were being courted by Novi.  Now, we’re glad we didn’t go.

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