Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

Cobo Center: Passionately Purposeful

by By Sarah Beauchamp and Katie Kervin, Assistant Editors | Jan 01, 2013
PCMA Convene

What's new for meetings and conventions at your venue that you're most excited about?

We have a $300-million renovation of the Cobo Center coming up, which will add:

• new and upgraded meeting space

• a 40,000-square-foot ballroom overlooking the Detroit River

• two new junior ballrooms

• a large exterior terrace

• a new main entrance and atrium lobby

• 250-seat cyber café and food court

• a secure connection to the 3.5-mile RiverWalk

• an exterior video wall and interior digitaldisplay boards.

What are meeting planners asking for now that they weren't asking for a year or two ago?

Our renovation approach was based on input from a 24-member customer advisory board made up of representatives from every sector of the industry. The program is a response to their call for more meeting space, digital-signage information and marketing opportunities, upgraded food service — both catering and retail — and free Wi-Fi throughout the facility.

Planners are also always looking for new ways to grow attendance and new revenue streams. We are developing in-house marketing support programs to help them do both (visit cobocenter.com/planners/meeting_planner_tools).

Who has been your mentor in the meetings industry?

I am a firm believer in lifelong learning experience. At this late stage of my career, Larry Alexander, chairman of the Detroit Regional Convention Facilities Authority and CEO of the Detroit Metropolitan Convention ' Visitors Bureau, is a current role model. He has provided exemplary leadership in bringing together diverse interests within this region to support the very successful comeback of Detroit as a viable and attractive meeting and convention destination. Others I count as mentors are Dick Shaff, Steve Hagstette, Ted Lewis, and Yulita Osuba.

What is your leadership style?

Management to me is essentially leadership. What has worked for me is to lead internally — that is, within the facility — as a coach; and externally — within the community and the industry — as a cheerleader. In other words: passionately purposeful and relentlessly positive.

What are you most looking forward to in 2013?

I am looking forward to the completion of Stage I of the final phase of the Cobo renovation — our new ballroom, meeting rooms, and adjacent support space.

What is the biggest challenge — and the biggest opportunity — facing the meetings industry today?

I think it's attracting the next generation of leaders to participate in the face-to-face professional-development experience. A related issue is the challenge to more fully integrate the infrastructure of meeting and convention facilities with emerging technologies.

Thom Connors
General Manager, Cobo Center

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