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Panel to recommend Cobo expansion


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Friday, January 14, 2005

Panel to recommend Cobo expansion

The $600 million proposal would tear down arena and add 300,000 square feet of exhibit space.

By R.J. King / The Detroit NewsDETROIT -- After nearly two years of study, a Cobo Center planning group will recommend the expansion of the convention facility's main exhibit hall in downtown Detroit by 50 percent at a cost of about $600 million.

The plan to expand Cobo Center to 900,000 square feet of exhibit space will be the final recommendation of the Tourism Action Group, which was established to review options for expanding or replacing Cobo Center.

The Tourism Action Group's proposal was confirmed by several officials involved with the project, including Bob Dadow, a member of the group and deputy Oakland County executive, and Dick Genthe, co-chairman of the this year's North American International Auto Show and immediate past president of the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association.

The dealer group paid for a $100,000 engineering report, to be completed next month, that will call for tearing down Cobo Arena, adjacent to Cobo Center, and replacing it with 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, Genthe said.

The project still has a long way to go before becoming a reality. Critics say public money should not be used to expand Cobo Center.

"The engineering plan is the simple thing, but where the rubber meets the road is who is going to pay for it," said L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County executive. "We strongly support a private funding mechanism, because the state, affected counties and Detroit don't have the money."

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to address Cobo Center's growth plan during a luncheon speech today before the Detroit Economic Club.

Earlier this week, Kilpatrick said a projected $230 million shortfall in the city's next fiscal year budget will lead to sizable layoffs and diminished services.

While financing remains a question, most agree Cobo Center needs to be expanded because automakers are running out of exhibit space for the popular Detroit auto show, which opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 23.

"The proposed expansion to 900,000 square feet of space will provide sufficient room to welcome (auto) brands that have made overtures to be at our show," said Genthe, owner of Dick Genthe Chevrolet in Southgate.

"It will also put all the automakers on one floor."

The annual auto show pumps more than $500 million into the local economy. David Sowerby, portfolio manager and chief market analyst at Loomis Sayles & Co. in Bloomfield Hills, projects this year's show will generate $580 million in economic activity, a 5 percent gain from a year ago. The show draws around 850,000 people and 6,700 journalists.

Automakers have complained for several years that Cobo's 600,000 square feet of exhibit space on one level is inadequate for their needs. The companies have been adding brands and vehicles in recent years.

Some automakers like Volkswagen AG display vehicles on Cobo's main floor and a lower level, which provides 100,000 square feet. Other manufacturers have added second floors to their exhibits to display vehicles and expand meeting areas.

Genthe said two European automakers, Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA, have made inquiries about displaying vehicles at the auto show. "The burgeoning auto market in China will likely mean the addition of two or three more automakers," he added.

For the first time, DaimlerChrysler AG brought its smart brand to the show, Genthe added. "Smart was able to get everything into Daimler's exhibit, plus have an outdoor exhibit at the (neighboring) Pontchartrain Hotel," he said.

Any public financing should be paired with private contributions, Genthe said. Over the next few months, Genthe and others will meet to formulate possible funding for the expansion.

Patterson and others have called for a privately owned and operated facility.

"Of all the convention centers in the U.S., 35 percent are privately owned and managed, while 55 percent are privately managed," Patterson said.

You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking@ detnews.com. Sources: City of Detroit, Detroit News research Sources: City of Detroit, Detroit News research

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Gov to Privatize Cobo Hall

MIRS Capitol Capsule

January 14, 2005

Democrats don't generally cotton to privatizing, but Gov. Jennifer Granholm is close to inking a deal with a private investor to take over the Cobo Hall expansion project, which has been languishing in Southeast Michigan for more than a year.

There's been speculation that the state of Illinois had its eyes on grabbing the North American Auto Show now under way at Cobo. It was offering more room at its spacious McCormick Center in downtown Chicago. But the governor is reassuring everyone, "We will not loose Cobo Hall."

The governor told MIRS, "We want a private investor to come in and do that

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