With the North American International Auto
Show, one of Detroit’s largest sources of revenue, currently
in progress at the Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center, critical
issues surrounding Detroit’s development and renewal are once
again surfacing. The Detroit Free Press reports the city receives
$550 million from the auto show each year and attracts 6,600
journalists to the city. However, the auto show has outgrown Cobo
and other cities would be more than happy to lure it away to their
more spacious convention centers — a symbolic and economic
loss that would be on par with Detroit’s loss of Motown
Records in 1975.

Mira Levitan

To prevent this, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick yesterday
announced preliminary plans to work with Oakland County Executive
L. Brooks Patterson in order to build a larger convention center in
Detroit based on the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. This
could not only benefit Detroit’s economy, but promote
cooperation between the city and its surrounding suburbs as
well.

Cobo, named after late segregationist Mayor Albert Cobo,
attracts annual conventions such as the auto show because it was
once one of the nation’s largest convention centers. In order
to remain competitive, a larger convention center is necessary. The
center Kilpatrick is planning will cover 60 to 65 acres of land and
have 1.2 million square feet of floor space on one level, compared
to Cobo’s 700,000. The new center will be comparable with
some of the world’s largest, including those in Frankfurt,
Germany, Tokyo and Paris.

Furthermore, despite some reservations, Patterson’s
willingness to work with Kilpatrick in order to achieve this goal
sets a positive precedent, as Patterson has had a rocky
relationship with the city in the past. Cooperation between Detroit
and Oakland County is essential to rebuilding the city’s
economy and the construction of a new convention center will
encourage future collaboration that will benefit the entire
region.

Simply building a new convention center is not enough to revive
Detroit. Although such projects are necessary to spur development,
the city needs other initiatives in order to appeal to tourists and
to ensure financial stability. Detroit places too much emphasis on
these big-ticket items, while overlooking the realities and
problems of the average Detroit citizen. Kilpatrick also should not
ignore the high cost of building a new convention center.

Despite these serious reservations, Cobo Hall no longer fulfills
the city’s needs. At the very least, one benefit of a new
convention center would be to take the name of an advocate of
segregation off of Detroit’s premier convention center.

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