Since last week’s blog post, the latest story about Detroit’s bankruptcy seems to be the city’s problem with stray dogs. I’m not sure this is news, but as Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me last week, media watch the city with careful eyes since it’s the automobile capital of the world.
Couple this with the recent news that on Oct. 23 there will be a hearing to determine whether Detroit is indeed eligible to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy and it’s hard not to be discouraged. But from what I’ve learned throughout the last two weeks, Detroit’s situation sounds worse than it really is – thanks in large part to the media. As an educated and trained journalist, I’m disappointed in the bias of the media outlets reporting on Detroit’s struggles.
So it’s encouraging to hear the excitement about Detroit’s “comeback city campaign.” The theme is, “Detroit, America’s Great Comeback City,” which features ads with real people, not models. It was unveiled at the American Society of Association Executives’ Annual Meeting in Atlanta and will run throughout the next two years, Alexander said.
But this isn’t the first time Detroit has come back.
“When we were doing prep for ASAE we created a strategic plan and one of the things that we uncovered was the fact that every 100 years Detroit reinvents itself,” said Alexander, who recently earned ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award. “This is not a reinvention; it’s a groundswell from the bottom up. We’re at that mark again. There are many other cities that are facing the exact same legacy cost issues that Detroit is facing. If it works in Detroit, there will be other cities that follow suit.”
Almost immediately after Detroit filed for bankruptcy on July 18, Alexander sent a letter to the CVB’s members to end-run some of the questions he knew would arise. How would this affect sales? Would the Cobo Center have to cease its $299 million renovation?
In the letter, Alexander assured members that Detroit is thriving. Throughout the last two years, the private sector has brought to the city nearly 12,000 new jobs and $11 billion in new economic development. And according to the CVB, direct spending for booked groups in Detroit through 2015 is $189.7 million.
In July, a 367-room, eight-suite Crown Plaza Ponchartrain Hotel opened, adding to Detroit’s inventory of more than 4,000 luxury hotel rooms that already exist downtown. And soon, Cobo Center will unveil its 40,000-square-foot ballroom.
“Bankruptcy is a difficult but clearly an unavoidable step that will pave the way for a viable and sustainable future for the city of Detroit,” Alexander wrote. “We are fully supportive of this decision if it will solve the city’s financial challenges expeditiously and allow the city to move forward. Detroit has been enjoying an amazing comeback, and putting our financial house in order is part of that comeback.”
And there’s other good news: Interest from meeting planners has tripled, Alexander said.
So what should ASAE members expect in 2015? Beneath Cobo’s new ballroom will be 25,000 square feet of meeting space. There will be an atrium with a glass enclosure so attendees can enjoy the waterways. In addition to a new food court, there will be a tremendous improvement in customer service and food quality and presentation, he said.
The CVB has hired an executive director to handle the details of the ASAE meeting, Alexander said, just as it did when the Super Bowl came to Detroit.
“I would like people to know that Detroit is alive and well. We’re not dead,” he said. “Detroit has 4.5 million people living in regions who raise families and work, and we have multiple educational opportunities. We are not the black eye of the country.”
In fact, as a lifelong Michigander, I’d argue it’s just the opposite. So as editor of this blog, I’ll continue to search for good news about Detroit to provide a counterbalance to most media outlets. In the meantime, I hope you keep the faith and believe in Detroit’s promise.