Cobo Center Hums Along as Renovation Reaches Key Phase

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Detroit, MI – The ambitious $300 million renovation of Cobo Center in Detroit shifted to a higher gear this Spring even as the stream of attendees into the building continued to swell.

The internal demolition of the landmark Cobo Arena section of the complex was completed in May and the construction of the new signature atrium overlooking the Detroit River was underway. At the same time, the event calendar continued uninterrupted and drew good crowds, said Thom Connors, SMG regional vice president and general manager of Cobo Center.

“Attendance was up this year for our two largest shows, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) and Autorama,” said Connors. “The construction areas have been successfully isolated from the events and we are open for business.”

In the meantime, workers have begun building the three-story atrium that will link the main floor with the new entrance to the building – and will also provide the renovated convention center with a “wow” factor.

“When completed, this area will be the most visually dramatic and breathtaking manifestation of physical change to the facility,” said Larry Alexander, chairman of the board of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and president & CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The target date for completion of the atrium is January 2013, in time for the next NAIAS. A new 40,000 square foot ballroom and 25,000 square feet of meeting space will come on line in May 2013. The entire renovation will be wrapped up two years later.

“All three stages of Phase III of the renovation will be completed for the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in the Summer of 2015,” said Connors. “In the meantime, we have all exhibit space available and full use of meeting rooms up to current capacity.”

The number of events and visitors to Cobo Center doubled from Fiscal Year 2011 to 2012, while operating expenses were reduced by $1.3 million due to reduction in energy usage.

“It’s professional management, it’s better service, it’s better sales, and we’ve increased the level of activity,” said Patrick Bero, CEO and chief financial officer of the DRCFA.

The number of attendees at events at Cobo this Summer is  projected to skyrocket 250% above 2011. Event bookings include Novonordis, BASF and Care Fusion. Consumer shows include the Detroit Bike Expo and a new golf show. In the government sector, there’s the National Veterans Administration Small Business Conference & Expo. Other events include the American Federation of Teachers Biennial Conference in June and Schneider Publications TEAMS Conference & Expo.

Connors credits much of the recent success at Cobo to staff restructuring. Facility operations were placed under Cobo’s assistant general manager Claude Molinari, a 15-year veteran of SMG and former general manager of SMG’s SMGX Exhibition Services company. The sales staff increased from one to a team of four; a new finance team was created; and new event managers were recruited. The facility embarked on a program of increased marketing, media relations, web site development and customer relations. Connors noted that in a recent customer survey, Cobo received an overall facility rating of 97.6%, or excellent, in the First Quarter of 2012.

Reach Thom Connors at (313) 877-8777 or tconnors@cobocenter.com; Larry Alexander at (313) 202-1800 or lalexander@visitdetroit.com