I have a soft spot for Detroit, one of the nation’s most iconic cities — just say the name, and you think of automobiles, Motown, and now — well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
I was born in nearby Ann Arbor, went to college at the University of Michigan there, and during that time attended a number of sporting events in Detroit, especially Detroit Tiger games at grand old Tiger Stadium, since replaced by a new ballpark. I’ve been a rabid Tiger fan since I was 15, and, like many baby boomers, the great Motown music of the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and other artists helped form the soundtrack of my youth.
As a kid growing up in Indiana, my family would make periodic trips to Detroit to visit relatives. At the time, I was in awe of the big city, which was then the fifth most populous in the country. (It has since fallen to 18th.)
So it’s been painful for me to watch Detroit’s descent into bankruptcy and, over the years, into a city littered with abandoned homes that couldn’t even sell for a dollar. We all know the struggles that the Motor City’s auto industry went through several years ago, when it seemed on the brink of extinction before the federal government rescue.
But now something is happening in Detroit, aided by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (DMCVB ), an independent nonprofit agency charged with bringing tourists and conventioneers to the city. Detroit tourism is on the rebound, and the DMCVB is hailing its new marketing campaign: “America’s Great Comeback City.”
According to the DMCVB, 2013 was a good year for convention and hotel bookings in Detroit, and they are up more than 200 percent over 2013 for 2014 and 2015. Some 236,000 room nights have booked for this year, up from 129,000 last year. Metro Detroit is scheduled to host twice as many hotel meetings (12) this year than last. And bookings are looking good all the way through 2018.
Bill Bohde, the DMCVB’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, credits the turnaround to the new marketing campaign, along with a $279 million renovation of Cobo Center, Detroit’s main convention facility, as well as a revitalized downtown. “It’s all come together nicely for us,” Bohde told a trade publication. “Many people are moving downtown, and new businesses are starting up — it’s beginning to change people’s perceptions of what Detroit is all about.”
What might boomers like to do in Detroit?
If it’s baseball season, you can take in a Tiger game at Comerica Park (the Tigers are hot again!). The Detroit Zoo (in adjacent Royal Oak) is considered one of the best in the country. Summer is also a good time to explore Belle Isle, a 1,000-acre island park that sports a zoo and aquarium along with hiking trails. (The park, which has gotten a bit run down over the years under city management, is now being taken over by the state). Or you can take a Detroit River cruise, either just for sightseeing or lunch or dinner if you prefer.
Indoor activities include the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the country’s top art museums (there has been talk of selling off some of the most valuable artworks to pay the city’s bills, so see it now! A deal may be in the works to avoid this fate, however). In the Detroit Metro area, Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum provide fascinating looks at America through the centuries, with special emphasis on the rise of the automobile.
Back downtown, don’t miss Greektown, site of a slew of colorful Greek restaurants, and even a casino.
You can get around downtown (including Greektown) via Detroit’s People Mover, a light rail system that costs just $.75 a ride.
Businessman Dan Gilbert has invested more than $1 billion in downtown Detroit, buying up some 40 properties (including the Greektown casino) and helping to spur the growth of downtown apartment buildings, which draw workers looking for convenient residences close to their offices. Downtown residents, in turn, spur the proliferation of more restaurants and shops.
There’s an old joke that Detroit was in such bad shape that it could win the comeback city of the year award three years in a row.
Detroit’s CV&B will soon find out whether there’s some truth to that. You can check out their website, VisitDetroit.com, here.
This Week’s Travel Quiz:
VisitBritain, charged with luring tourists to Great Britain, recently offered tips to British hoteliers to help them avoid offending visitors of different nationalities. Which of these was NOT one of those tips:
A. DO Deal promptly with any complaint from German or Austrian tourists
B. DON’T Exchange a smile or make eye contact with anyone from France who you do not know.
C. DON’T Describe a visitor from Canada as “American”
D. DON’T Suggest to Americans that they spiff up their dress when going out to dinner
E. DO Understand that Indians are amiable but have a tendency to change their minds quite frequently
I’ll have the answer in my next post.