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Resurgence of Detroit’s Cobo Center Includes Transformation of Facility and Operations
Thom Connors, SMG regional vice president and general manager of Cobo Center announced today the onset of construction for the new "signature space" for Cobo Center. Well into stage one of Phase III of the 5-year
renovation, spacious three-story glass atrium that links the main floor of the venue with a
new entrance facing the Detroit River, is scheduled for completion in January of 2013, in
time for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). When completed, the
atrium area will bring the lower-level exhibition space more naturally into the facility and
link Cobo Center more fully to Detroit's scenic riverfront.
"Today's the day when the caterpillar officially enters its cocoon and begins its
transformation into a butterfly," said Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority
(DRCFA) board chair Larry Alexander. "When complete, this area will be the most
visually dramatic and breathtaking manifestation of physical change to the facility."
Internal demolition on the former Cobo Arena is complete, and new glass exterior, a
40,000 square-foot ballroom and 25,000 square-feet of meeting space will take its place,
scheduled to come online in May of 2013.
Construction has not interrupted Cobo Center operations, which was assumed by SMG
in October of 2010, when the DRCFA hired the company to manage operations at Cobo
Center. Thom Connors, regional vice president and 37-year veteran with SMG came
aboard as general manager to improve customer service, change the corporate culture
and stabilize operational finances.
“Attendance was up this year for our two largest shows, the North American International
Auto Show and Autorama,” said Connors. “The construction areas have been
successfully isolated from events and we are open for business.”
The first year track record of Cobo Center’s new management team: in January 2011
the NAIAS announced an agreement with SMG for a five-year deal to keep the auto
show in Cobo, expected to pump an estimated $1.75-billion into the Metro Detroit
community. Later that month, the state of Michigan awarded Cobo Center a Green
Venues Michigan certification. The Detroit Shoppe featuring made-in-Michigan and
Detroit sports team merchandise opened on the concourse, with all proceeds going to
local area charities. And the number of events and visitors to Cobo Center doubled from
FY 2011 – 2012, while operating expense was reduced by $1.3-million due to reduction
in energy usage.
“It’s professional management, it’s better service, it’s better sales, so we’ve increased
the level of activity,” said Patrick Bero, CEO and chief financial officer of the DRCFA.
Summer bookings have doubled for 2012 vs. 2011. The return of the corporate market
segment for Cobo Center includes events such as Novonordis, BASF, and Care Fusion.
First time public shows will be coming back: Youmacon, Detroit Bike Expo as well as a
new Golf Show. New bookings in the government sector include the National Veterans
Administration Small Business Conference and Expo that will include a huge job fair for
veterans and is their largest annual event. Also included is the American Federation of
Teachers Biennial Conference in June. Summer sporting events including Schneider
Publications TEAMS Conference and Expo, and the 2012 Acrobatic Gymnastics
National Championship. With all the new bookings, the number of visitors to Cobo
Center during the summer is expected to rise 250 percent.
Connors credits much of the recent success in Cobo Center operations to staff
restructuring: facility operations placed under Cobo’s assistant general manager Claude
Molinari, a 15-year veteran of SMG and former general manager of SMG’s SMGX
Exhibition Services company; turning the previous sales staff of one member into a team
of four; recruiting new event managers; creating a new finance team; adding a marketing
and communications position for website development, public and media relations
development, and customer relations. Progress from these advances is evidenced by
recent customer survey results giving Cobo an overall facility rating of 97.6%, or
excellent, in the first quarter of 2012.
“I think that’s now become the new standard and we’re challenged to maintain it
throughout the construction,” said Connors. “All three stages of Phase III of the Cobo
Center renovation will be completed for our upcoming ASAE Annual Meeting &
Exposition in the summer of 2015. In the meantime, we have all exhibit space available
and full use of meeting rooms up to current capacity,” he adds.
About Cobo Center
With 725,000 square feet of exhibit space, Cobo Center boasts one of the largest
contiguous exhibit floor spaces in North America and is the 19th largest convention center in the country.
For more information, go to www.cobocenter.com.
Since 1977, SMG has provided management services to more than 220 public assembly
facilities including arenas, stadiums, theatres and performing arts centers, equestrian facilities and
convention, congress and exhibition centers. Visit www.smgworld.com for more information.
About the DRCFA
On 9/15/09, operational control of Cobo Center transferred to the Detroit Regional
Convention Facility Authority, under a collaborative agreement by the Michigan State Legislature, the City of
Detroit, and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Each of these entities has an appointed member on the
DRCFA Board. Larry Alexander is Chairman the Board as the member appointed by the Governor of the
State of Michigan. For more information, visit www.drcfa.org.
Cobo Center Operating Revenue More Than Doubles in FY2011, Taxpayer Subsidies Drop Sharply
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