The "new" Motor City is full of surprises
When people think of Detroit, they often think of the Big Three American car makers: Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. But while American auto manufacturing is a big part of the greater Detroit area—which greatly suffered during the industry’s meltdown—the region has grown beyond its original claim to fame. (Given the growing presence of the energy research, medical and defense sectors, many residents even refer to it as the new Detroit, Detroit 3.0.)
Today, Motor City is a diverse destination with new hotels, a vibrant new riverfront district along the Detroit River, many excellent museums, top-notch sporting venues and teams, casino gaming, live music and more.
“The media often portrays a one-sided story of metro Detroit,” says Christopher Baum, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (visitdetroit.com). “[Many] businesses have started cropping up here; we are not just automotive and manufacturing [anymore].”
Detroit is not just attracting a swath of new industries, it is also drawing in new and returning meetings business. “The press is ripping the city, and it is really not that way. It has art, entertainment, culture, diversity, gaming, cars, sports—it has everything,” says Jim Addis, director of national meetings for the National Exchange Club. Addis has planned numerous meetings in Detroit over the years, including board retreats and small meetings, and is in the process of planning the NEC’s 2,000-person 100th anniversary and annual meeting there this summer.
According to Addis, Detroit is an underrated meetings destination. The city is affordable and diverse, has great airlift at a highly rated airport, and offers plenty to do outside of the meeting room. “The CVB has been phenomenal. They are one of the better CVBs, and I work with CVBs all over the country. The whole experience has been exceptional. It is a shame they get such a bad rap, because they don’t deserve it,” he adds.
Addis says that his attendees have been surprised by the city, and felt that it was “nice, clean and safe.” The CVB’s Baum says that response is typical of many of his clients. “I often hear that ‘It is much nicer than I expected.’ We love it when they are pleasantly surprised—with that, we build momentum. Meeting planners that used to say ‘no’ are now saying ‘yes,’” Baum says.
Your attendees might also be surprised by what Motor City has to offer. Did you know that Detroit actually looks south onto Windsor, Ontario, Canada? Did you know some of American music’s greatest hits were recorded here? Or that Detroit is a leader in the urban farm movement?
These are just a few facts that might surprise your attendees about Detroit. Bring your meeting here, and be prepared for Detroit 3.0.
Major Meeting Venues
The host of the North American International Auto Show and the city’s central meeting headquarters, Cobo Center has 750,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 75 meeting rooms. The facility is now undergoing a $270 million renovation and expansion that is slated for completion in 2014. The project will eventually renovate all of the existing function space and add a new atrium with views of Windsor, 17 loading docks and a 40,000-square-foot, clear-span ballroom. “It is such a total re-envisioning of the space. It will also feature a gigantic media grid, new management and food. It is very exciting, and the response has been fantastic,” Baum says.
Cobo Center is located nearby the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center—the world headquarters of GM—and offers 1,246 guest rooms, 35 meeting rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space. The hotel is centrally located in downtown and convenient to a stop on the People Mover (Detroit’s efficient and affordable public transportation system) for easy accessibility. It is also NEC’s headquarters hotel, which Addis is quick to compliment: “Everything is really nice, and the staff there is wonderful.”
In the also-nearby Book District, The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit was the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1924. The hotel completed a comprehensive $180 million renovation in late 2008 and has 453 guest rooms, 30,000 sq. ft. of space and three signature restaurants, including Roast, the brainchild of Iron Chef Michael Symon.
Located in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Novi, the Sheraton Detroit Novi is also a top meeting option, with 238 guest rooms and 17 breakout rooms, including an 8,778-square-foot ballroom. Close to the airport, The Detroit Metropolitan Hotel has 256 rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
In Greektown (where visitors stop to savor authentic Greek fare), the Atheneum Suite Hotel offers 174 suites and 26,000 sq. ft. of antiquity-inspired meeting space (think rooms named Aphrodite and Socrates). Also in the area, the Greektown Casino-Hotel is a new gaming property with 400 modern guest rooms, function space for up to 400 guests and a 100,000-square-foot casino.
Another option in the area is the MGM Grand Detroit, a Four-Diamond, Four-Star property that opened in October 2007 with an expansive casino featuring 4,000 slots and 90 table games. MGM also offers 400 guest rooms, 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a full-service spa and two Michael Mina restaurants, Bourbon Steak and Saltwater.
Designed with feedback from acclaimed automotive designer Chip Foose (known for his design and creation of the modified 2002 Ford Thunderbird), the new MotorCity Casino Hotel is a Four-Diamond property that offers 400 guest rooms, a casino, many live performance venues and a 13,000-square-foot spa and fitness center with 10 private treatment rooms. For meetings, MotorCity has 67,000 sq. ft. of function space, including the 18,070-square-foot Grand Ballroom, and a dedicated meeting concierge.
Unique Venues & Activities
Build in time pre- and post-meeting to allow Detroit to wow, and surprise your visitors with its many attractions, or plan an event at one of the area’s many group-friendly sites.
For NEC’s annual meeting, Addis is scheduling a number of optional tours at top local attractions, such as the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The plant is a big draw, and among its offerings is the Assembly Plant Walking Tour, where visitors walk a third of a mile on an elevated walkway and view the final assembly for Ford F-150 trucks. While on site, your group might be surprised to learn that the Ford Rouge Center is home to the world’s largest living roof, at 454,000 sq. ft., which serves to collect and filter rainfall and insulate the building.
The NEC is also hosting an off-site event at the Henry Ford Museum, a “phenomenal museum,” Addis says, which features such artifacts as the car that President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated. The venue also includes a village with historic buildings, a unique site for an opening reception, according to the CVB’s Baum.
Detroit is famously the birthplace of Motown, the recording label and the distinctive ’60s musical genre, and those who’d like to learn more about the city’s musical past should check out The Motown Museum, aka Hitsville, U.S.A. Visitors will find the original home of Berry Gordy (the founder of Motown Records), as well as the studio where most of the Motown hits were recorded by famous artists such as the Four Tops and the Supremes.
Detroit River tours are also a fun activity for out-of-town gatherings, with operators such as Infinity and Ovation Yacht Charters and Detroit Princess Riverboat. Addis will be booking cruises with dining and entertainment on the Detroit Princess, which is also available for private charters for up to 1,800.
Metro Detroit has a diverse dining scene and many excellent restaurants. Slows Bar-B-Q is one of the hottest spots in town, Baum says, and the barbecue joint is a popular caterer for meetings and events.
Holding court at the top of the MotorCity Casino Hotel, the Four-Diamond Iridescence restaurant serves Modern American cuisine with international notes and breathtaking views. The restaurant features a private dining room, which can accommodate 10 guests, and an upper-tier, semi-private dining area, which can host 45.
Another premier restaurant for groups that showcases the city, Coach Insignia is located on the top floor of the Renaissance Center and affords panoramic views of Detroit and Windsor. (It is also the second-highest restaurant in the Western Hemisphere.) The contemporary chophouse has a beautiful 72nd-floor private room that holds up to 16 guests and a 71st-floor dining space that hosts from 50–400 people.
Rated the best large airport in America by JD Power and Associates, Detroit Metro Airport serves more than 30 million passengers annually. The airport is a Delta hub and has flights on 14 additional carriers, such as US Airways and Southwest. The airport offers nonstop flights to more than 160 destinations internationally.