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New COBO: sooner than we think?

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Mogul proposes bigger Cobo

Maroun wants to group casinos, hotels, event center in southwest Detroit.

By Judy Lin / The Detroit News

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MACKINAC ISLAND -- A Grosse Pointe millionaire hopes to bring Detroit's casinos, convention center and at least one hotel to a southwest Detroit site near the vacant Michigan Central Train Depot.

Representatives of Manuel "Matty" Maroun, a transportation mogul who owns the Ambassador Bridge, have talked privately with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, but Maroun has yet to make a formal presentation to the city.

The proposal is the latest effort to bring Detroit a bigger convention hall than downtown's Cobo Center. Organizers of that facility's biggest event, the North American International Auto Show, say it needs more space to remain the nation's premier show.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has long held that tax money shouldn't pay for more convention space. He revealed the existence of a private proposal Saturday during the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference.

"This is the best option on the table," said Patterson, who heard details last week. "What they said is that they can make this work with the synergy of having casinos, a hotel and convention center on one site."

Dan Stamper, president of Maroun's Ambassador Bridge company, provided an outline of the proposal but declined to release details.

"We weren't ready to put that out there," said Stamper.

His company has worked closely with Kilpatrick on other projects. "But it's good news that Brooks has seen our proposal and is excited about it."

Stamper said the plan would cluster one, two or all three casinos with a new convention center and hotels on land Maroun's companies have amassed around the abandoned Michigan Central Train Depot in southwest Detroit. It's unclear if or how the aging building could be used.

The convention center would have 1 million square feet and would require public and private financing, he said. Stamper would not say how soon it could become reality.

He's had preliminary discussions with representatives of some of Detroit's casinos about relocating. The casinos recently won court approval to build permanent sites and all have identified sites for expansion.

Kilpatrick declined to answer questions, but Communication Manager Ceeon Quiett said the administration has not taken a position and will "go through it in a timely fashion."

Patterson urged the mayor to pursue it.

"The mayor's got to embrace this for it to work," he said. "But this has a whole lot more potential than the tax-funded model of becoming a reality. He owes it to his taxpayers to explore this before asking for tax dollars."

He acknowledged that interest from the Las Vegas Sands casino company in participating in a new convention center had waned.

Bob Berg, a spokesman for MGM Grand Detroit, said he was unaware of Maroun's plans and MGM is continuing to work on permanent casino plans near DTE downtown.

Representatives for MotorCity and Greektown casinos could not be reached for comment.

Patterson made the plans public during a discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference of the region's "Big Four" elected officials: Kilpatrick, Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Commissioner Chair Nancy White.

Patterson quipped that Kilpatrick has failed to exhaust all private investment opportunities for expanding Cobo. Without naming Maroun, Patterson said the mayor had ignored the calls of a potential private financier for two weeks.

"There is a private investor that has the money and the wherewithal, but the Mayor has not returned this investor's call," Patterson said.

Kilpatrick suggested that not every private development plan will provide salvation for the struggling city. But the mayor added that he's not as stubborn as Patterson suggests.

"Bull-excrement," Kilpatrick said of the implication that he has been unwilling to hear proposals.

The two leaders even left their seats to talk face to face during a break in the discussion, which was aired live on local radio.

Contrary to Patterson's comments, Stamper said his company has a good relationship with Kilpatrick. The delay had to do with timing.

Stamper, who met with Kilpatrick before and after the Big Four discussion, said the company was holding off meeting with the administration until after the city's budget battle and the Mackinac conference had ended.

Kilpatrick last week vetoed the City Council's budget proposal as he and the council disagree over the best way to downsize city government.

Detroit News Staff Writer R.J. King contributed to this report. You can reach Judy Lin at (313) 222-2072 or [email protected]

This proposal sounds very interesting and so far I think its probably the best. It would give Detroit a new larger convention center. Incorporate a hotel and casino, most likely MCC or MGM. And renovate the MCD as part of the convention center. This could be a very cool development for the city and my favorite part of it is that it opens up all that riverfront property for development were the current COBO sits. Of course this is Detroit and most stuff like this never happens but a fellow can dream cant he?

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I relate most to your last comment. I think this is a potentially good thing for Detroit...of course working out all the kinks that would come along with such a large undertaking. But I can't say I see it ever materializing, especially with the casinos trying to get off the ground as soon as possible.

What's the word on that anyway? You thing Greektown steel in the ground by the beginning of August?

Anyway, a new COBO is on our Christmas wish list. If it can be done, I will have a new found faith in the people of Metro Detroit...they would deserve it.

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Im just happy that people with money are throwing proposals out there. I believe it says they are hoping to attract a casino but im not sure that its absolutely vital to the project.

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If it weren't for the casinos I'd have more faith in this proposal. It's nice to see him actively proposing developments, but I'd like to see him propose some more feasible developments. MCS and a new Cobo would be wonderful if he can get them done, but since he has the money he might as well do some things that'll make Detroit more attractive; something that would give the large projects a better chance of coming to fruition.

I think I've been semi-pessimistic lately, but don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed the little time I spent downtown this past weekend. Things are progressing nicely, but I believe Detroit can and should be doing even better.

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Nothing wrong with raising the bar...higher expectations...new standards. We have a priority to care for our city and its people. :)

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Wow, this would be really cool. All I can say that is Detroit really needs to do something about the Convention center as soon as possible.

But it's possible this proposal could happen, let's hope it does.

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Nothing wrong with raising the bar...higher expectations...new standards.  We have a priority to care for our city and its people. :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That's true. It's just that it takes so long to find out if these big proposals are going to go anywhere. I think a collection of smaller projects that together would be just as big as these big proposals would benefit the city just as much and would likely be easier to get off the ground.

I don't really have a problem with these proposals. He's been coming up with great ideas and seems to know what types of projects would be good for the city. I just hate seeing all that development $$ sitting there waiting for something big to happen ;)

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Well a new convention center is going to be a big proposal. I cant think of how you could break it up into smaller projects. I think getting a new convention center ranks up there on the list of things that the city and region need to do.

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I think its a great idea but it seems like Cobo would just become an architectural hodge podge if their plan goes through. The whole facility needs a facelift and im not sure their plans could produce that. I do like the creativity though and it does seem like something that this region could use.

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I think the automakers' plans have a couple flaws

1) It will attach to joe louis. That is a mistake because it seems utterly inevitable to everyone that Joe Louis' future looks bleak and a massive expansion project that doesnt account for a new arena is silly

2) Their plans for an alternative energy incubator will prematurely compete with TechTown before we've established the market for high-tech iniatives in the city. We want to create the best high-tech incubator we can and bring such companies to the city. IF we allow anything that might compete w/ techtown in its infancy (which, by the way, is off to an excellent start) we might hamper its progess. It's been filling up very quickly and maybe the market is there for 2 incubators, but I just feel TechTown is where its at, although I wish it was closer to downtown

I hope they plan to revamp the building cosmetically in this transformation as well, maybe add something archetecturally notable.

Also, the southwest plans are iffy in my mind. I would hate to see the train station come down and I was hoping that any new convention center would still have its home downtown. Downtown is progressing pretty well, but the major thing we're missing @ this point is a sustainable crowd; we need people. I think we should concentrate development like this downtown. However, there are downsides to that. It would be nice to bring development to a neighborhood that needs it, like southwest. It might bring more popularity to the gem of Mexican Village

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they should explore incorporating a commuter rail terminal into it... tap that transportation bill! The old rail right of way exisits, all they need are the tracks

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are you talking about adding a people mover stop?

That would probably be a very good idea in a world in which the center is built in Southwest. At least a step in expanding the downtown loop of lightrail to some other neighborhoods. Maybe someday we can have more that 1 line...the Detroit El :)

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are you talking about adding a people mover stop?

There is already a stop at Cobo and Joe Louis Arena. He was talking about adding a stop for future commuter rail that will go to Ann Arbor.

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yeah, I'm talking about an actual commuter rail station. There used to be one at Fort Street and Third Street.... The Joe Louis Parking garage was designed such that the northernmost part of the garage could serve as a commuter rail station, why not bring the tracks through that and across the lodge to the back of Cobo... making it a terminal as well as the convention center... this could make cobo more marketable, folks could get their suburban hotels, catch a commuter train and get dropped off right at the site. It makes sense to me, but then again, its transit in detroit, so it will never happen.

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There is already a stop at Cobo and Joe Louis Arena. He was talking about adding a stop for future commuter rail that will go to Ann Arbor.

Oh I thought he was talking about the convention proposal @ Southwest...as in a whole new center. Sorry, when he was talking abotu already existing transit infrastructure, I assumed he meant the train station. I guess I ddint read it clearly enough

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I think having something done with MCS would be great, but I don't think this is what should be done.

I think having the convention center so far away from downtown, and not connected by any quick transportation will really discourage people from leaving the convention center (especially since they want it to have hotel and casino space). Moving it would also leave a massive abandoned building.

Imo, the convention center should be downtown, and either connected or really close to a people mover (maybe kiddy corner across the street with a skywalk or something). Visitors should be able to get to the center without a car from their hotel, they should be able to get to restaurants and bars, and to the downtown offices for related meetings and stuff.

Right now, as much as I generally don't like cobo, it does all of those things. If I had the choice, I would completely replace cobo with a new place. I would have it taller with a smaller or equal footprint. There would be columns with a few elevators, escalators and bathrooms placed throught the space to make it easy for people to move up and down. It would cut alot of the walking down (people don't like to walk), and I'm guessing it would make it less crowded (peole don't like sharing too much of their space). I'd also somehow make it take advantage of the river, and it would also not be ugly. Plus it would have the weight support for more levels for later on.

Of course that would be really expensive, and hard to do since you'd need to keep it open during construction so that events can still be held, but that's what I think should be done.

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I would love to see the river opened up right where Cobo is and I think if that was to happen you would see developers from around the country bidding on that like crazy. With that said in order for downtown and Cobo to be successful they need to stay very close to one another. Cobo at MCS would be great but it would hurt downtown and would likely hurt Cobo business wise. People like the short hike from their hotel to the convention center or the short trip on the PM. Cobo needs to be expanded desperately, but properly. The Joe needs to go and convention space could be expanded that way and I would like to see a hotel or residential element added to increase its use of the river. But as always money will dictate what is done and how nice it is.

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My proposal for a new convention center is a bit more complex but more sustainable:

1. Cobo Center & Arena and Joe Louis Arena should be demolished; opening up the river to the public, extending Hart Plaza (hopefully renamed), and creating 4 - 6 blocks of the most valuable vacant real estate in the northern hemisphere. These blocks would have frontage on a new Jefferson Blvd. overlooking the river and prominently featured in every shot of the NEW Detroit.

2. The new convention center should be an international venture of the world's automakers (especially the Chinese) and suppliers with naming rights going to the largest contributor/investor. I feel that the optimal location should be west of its current location, possibly replacing the main post office on Fort St. it will serve as a municipal anchor of the near west communities to the north (corktown, woodbridge).

3. Green design should be incorporated throughout. The building should represent the world vision and committment to ecologically sound transportation and mobility. It should be an inspirational locale to future generations globally.

4. Year round, family friendly amusement should be included in the flexible design of the new convention center, possibly in collaboration with the resources available to the casino gaming industry.

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