If Detroit is truly a city on the upswing – as city officials want us to believe – making crucial maintenance investments on its precious few world-class facilities is vital. Last December, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano proposed a $968 million plan to renovate Cobo Hall, the downtown convention center that hosts the North American International Auto Show each January, among other events. The endeavor, regardless of its intimidating price tag, has the potential to amass profits both for Detroit and its suburbs. It must be the entire region’s concern, not just the city’s.
Since its expansion in 1989, Cobo Hall has proven to be a consistent source of revenue for southeast Michigan. Besides the glitzy auto show – which brings in about $590 million to the region each year – this year Cobo also hosts the NAACP National Convention, Autorama and the Detroit Boat Show. Yet Cobo is an aging facility. In a time when Detroit needs to focus its every bright spot for the world’s eye, Cobo’s position as a world-class venue has become questionable.
As Michigan’s economy remains handcuffed to the fortunes of the Big Three, Cobo Hall generates industry fanfare and brings the limelight to Detroit with events like the auto show. Most importantly, such events draw visitors to Detroit and provide the city with an opportunity for tourism-related sales. But as a structure built for the purpose of hosting large conventions, Cobo is on the small side and some lucrative events that would have otherwise come to Detroit are forced to look elsewhere.
With the city struggling to finance the vital expansion and renovation of Cobo, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has proposed some solutions of his own alongside Ficano’s proposal. Ranging from opening a small casino in the building to charging a $1.50 ticket fee for flights out of Detroit Metro Airport, Patterson’s interest in the project is heartening. However, we hope his motives aren’t simply to profit from the revenues Cobo generates but also to share in the regional responsibility to help pick up the tab.
The prosperity of the suburbs, including Patterson’s Oakland County, was built from the industrial prowess of mid-20th century Detroit, yet the suburbs have never viewed the city’s current problems as their own. All too content to cruise in for the auto show or a Tigers game and leave without a second thought, suburbanites can no longer afford to see Detroit as a foreign entity; it’s only a matter of time before its problems spread to their communities.
The Cobo renovation project requires a wider regional commitment of both taxpayers and politicians. Gov. Jennifer Granholm stressed cooperation between levels of government in her State of the State address, noting that “the entire state needs and wants Detroit to be successful. We all have to work together to see it happen.” This statement is reflective of the need for regional collaboration that this area as a whole has in the past overlooked. After all, the suburbs soared because of the city; unless they help restore it, they could crash with it, too.