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Mayor says he'll give Patterson more Cobo info

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TOM WALSH: Kilpatrick offers olive branch

Mayor says he'll give Patterson more Cobo info

September 2, 2004

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Talks aimed at expanding the Cobo Center convention hall were thrown into disarray by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's temper tantrum Tuesday, but Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made an overture Wednesday afternoon that could get the effort back on track.

Kilpatrick told me he called Patterson's office to say he is willing to sit down and share operating information about Cobo that Oakland County officials had been seeking. Patterson pulled his Oakland delegates out of a regional task force on Cobo's future this week, charging that he was being denied critical information and rushed into supporting the expansion project.

When I reached Patterson by phone late Wednesday, he said he hadn't seen Kilpatrick's message yet. "But if the mayor wants to sit down and give us the information we need, we'll be at the table," Patterson said, adding, "We'll bring the sandwiches."

"We're not going to be unreasonable," Patterson said, "but we need the data we've been seeking since February."

Kilpatrick said he was perplexed about why Patterson's delegates boycotted Monday's meeting of the Tourism Action Group studying Cobo expansion, instead of attending and expressing their frustrations.

"But I'll reach out to him today and set up a meeting so we can keep this process going. It's too important to the region. It's too important to Detroit and too important to Oakland County for us to stop this because of a big headline today," Kilpatrick said, referring to newspaper reports.

The Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which stages the annual North American International Auto Show at Cobo, began agitating about three years ago to expand the facility. With only 600,000 square feet of floor space on the main level, Cobo is much smaller than venues for other premier international auto shows in Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt, Germany. Without an expansion and upgrade of Cobo, last renovated in 1989, the Detroit show would lose prestige, sponsors fear.

A small group began exploring options for Cobo about two years ago. The group was expanded in February under the auspices of the regional Tourism Economic Development Council to include representatives of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.

In an emotional letter Tuesday to TEDC Executive Director Jim Townsend, Patterson said Oakland County was withdrawing from the Cobo study group. "It is our belief that there is an incredible rush to judgment at the present time . . . We will not be part of such a sham."

Kilpatrick said Patterson hadn't personally expressed his frustrations over Cobo, even though the two met several times recently on other subjects.

In addition to Kilpatrick's overture, Detroit area auto dealers were trying to bring Patterson and Oakland back to the Cobo discussion table. Bill Cook, senior cochairman of the 2005 Detroit auto show, pleaded with Patterson on WJR-AM (760)'s Paul W. Smith show Wednesday to return to the table, saying that Oakland County stands to reap a big share of the economic benefit that an expanded Cobo would bring to the region.

Cook said that Cobo expansion needs unanimous support from Oakland and all other areas. It's urgent to make decisions soon, he added, because Detroit is losing ground rapidly to other U.S. convention cities. The Detroit show committee voted Monday to approve $100,000 to start an engineering study on the cost of tearing down the existing Cobo Arena and adding 225,000 square feet of floor space.

There is much huffing and puffing about Patterson's tactics and Detroit's slow response to Oakland's response for detailed historical data about Cobo's finances.

But, at the end of the day, the gamesmanship doesn't matter much.

Without Oakland onboard, there can be no regional consensus on Cobo expansion. And, without consensus, expansion is a nonstarter.

Kilpatrick and Cook are making the right moves, encouraging Patterson to return to the table. Patterson deserves to see the detailed financial he has requested. If it's forthcoming, he needs to get back onboard.

Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or [email protected]

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