William Shatner, Cher, Brett Favre—Americans love second acts and revivals, which might explain why people (and planners) are so bullish about Detroit again. Though you can still rightfully call it Motor City, Detroit also now wins raves for its downtown sports venues, 5,000 downtown hotel rooms and its updated and expanded Cobo Center for conventions.
Plus, ongoing redevelopment in “the D” also includes dozens of new restaurants, spiffed-up parks, and one of the country’s most vibrant art scenes (both inside and out—more on that later). It’s no wonder so many organizations are planning their events and meetings here. (Think the U.S. Figure Skating National Championship, the National Society of Black Engineers and the SAE International World Conference in the first months of 2019 alone.)
“It’s been quite a transformation, to say the least,” says Dave Beachnau, senior vice president of sales, marketing and sports for Visit Detroit. “We’ve seen so much development across the region.”
Perhaps the biggest draw? The dazzling Cobo Center which, thanks to a recent $279-million renovation and expansion, now boasts 2.4-million square feet of events space. Highlights include the 40,000-sq.-ft. Grand Riverview Ballroom (think dazzling water vistas and glimpses of Windsor, Ontario), which can host 3,500 people theater-style or 2,250 for a banquet, and an atrium which can accommodate 1,200 people standing. Plus, it’s a high-tech marvel, with a $2-million Rocket Fibre Wi-Fi network (up to 32,000 can use it at once!) and, through the space, pod furniture with its own charging stations. You can get there, and to many downtown hotels, via the innovative People Mover, a kind of futuristic monorail.
Hotels with meeting spaces and rooms tend to be as outsized and impressive as Detroit’s iconic skyline. Detroit Marriott at the GM Renaissance Center fills 70 riverfront floors with 1,246 rooms and 52 suites and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Host a small reception in one of the higher-floor suites for an in-the-clouds feel, a warm-weather cocktail hour on riverside outdoor spaces (some with grassy expanses), or a ballroom that accommodates 2,200 people seated. Add in that guests can overlook the new cars on display on the lowest floor at GM World and that staff chefs use local ingredients like Detroit Distillery spirits and Michigan’s legendary produce. “It’s a contained world for meetings, so we get a lot of national associations and sporting groups,” says director of sales Judy Booth. “We even have our own EMS team and tactical force!”
Other, smaller hotels offer more intimate spaces, often with a heaping dose of Motor City’s vintage architecture: Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney building has 6,000 square feet of events space (salons, boardrooms) in a restored 1915 skyscraper, and the just-open Shinola Hotel can host up to 200 people in spaces like the mirrored, tile-roofed Bixby Hall.
Downtown proves a particular winner for events at pro ball and hockey stadiums: Imagine hosting breakfast for 40 people or a large-scale event for thousands at Comerica Park (home of MLB’s Detroit Tigers) or a pre-Red Wings or Pistons game happy hour at the groovy Budweiser Beer Garden at the new Little Caesar’s Arena, with its AstroTurf lawn and mod picnic tables.
“We’re such a sports town,” says Beachnau. “You can attend a game, but they also have great spaces for events.”
Cultural venues also impress here. The neon-marqueed, circa-1928 Fox Theater provides snazzy, retro digs for receptions and conferences (a columned, Egyptian-look ballroom, buyouts for the 5,174 gilded auditorium itself). And the storied Detroit Institute of Arts can welcome 1,100 people for auditorium seating or a dinner in the 1927 Detroit Film Theatre or up to 500 guests for a standing cocktail reception in the gleaming, marble Walter B. Ford Great Hall amid dramatic arches and paintings.