By now, you’ve probably seen the headlines of Detroit’s decision to file for bankruptcy. It’s no secret that the past three decades have not been kind to Motown. However, before you write off Detroit as a city that cannot be repaired, I urge you to take a closer look and dig beneath the negative statistics that the majority of national media outlets have chosen to highlight.
Everyone has seen images of abandoned buildings in Detroit, but which media outlets are covering the $11 billion of economic development from the private sector in the past two years? Many readers won’t have any trouble talking about the population decline in Detroit, but how many of them know that the fastest growing demographic is people ages 35 and under with a college degree? The city may be known for automobiles, but how about the booming tech industry that calls downtown home?
There’s no question that Detroit is facing an unbelievably sad situation, but plenty of other cities are working to address the same kind of issues such as school closings, underfunded pension plans and outdated labor contracts. Detroit covers approximately 139 square miles, and there are neighborhoods where I would feel very unsafe. There are also neighborhoods in every major city in America where I would feel equally concerned for my own well-being. Downtown Detroit - where the Cobo Center lies - is not one of them.
“We don’t shy away from the fact that some of the neighborhoods are struggling,” Larry Alexander, President and CEO, Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, says. “However, conventioneers and visitors are in the downtown core, and downtown is extremely safe.”
“Those pictures of burnt out and abandoned buildings are nowhere near downtown,” Alexander adds. “In many ways, this is a tale of two cities.”
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Alexander adds that those involved in writing the next chapter of the tale of downtown Detroit are committed to preventing the city’s financial woes from creating any stumbling blocks for meetings and conferences.
“Officials managing the bankruptcy recognize that visitors and conventions are key to a successful city and will work hand in hand with the private sector to continue the positive momentum in Detroit,” Alexander says.
Alexander says that the momentum will continue to build. The CVB and the Cobo Center both operate independently of the city government. The future looks bright at the Cobo Center, too, where a massive renovation is on time, on budget and on track to be 100 percent complete by 2015 - the same year the city will host the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s Annual Meeting & Exposition.
“Detroit has been enjoying an amazing comeback, and putting our financial house in order is part of that comeback,” Alexander says.
Let’s face it: every big city faces challenges. Detroit’s challenges have been piling up at a faster pace, and city officials were forced to act. From the past struggles of the US automotive industry to corrupt government officials to residents moving to surrounding suburbs, there isn’t one single cause for Detroit’s problems. There won’t be one single solution, either, but I believe that the city’s efforts to attract group business and leisure travelers will play a major role in providing the fuel to restart the Motor City.