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Detroit seeing uptick in conventions, visitors

Associated Press Updated: January 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm 0

DETROIT (AP) — A conference of Jehovah's Witnesses later this year is expected to draw 90,000 people to Detroit.

The conference will stretch over two weekends at Ford Field and is an example of how Detroit is becoming more of a destination for conventions, despite the city's recent dive into bankruptcy, according to Larry Alexander, president and chief executive of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Alexander reported Wednesday during an annual meeting that major convention bookings are up this year and 2015.

The bureau hosted five major conventions in 2013 and has 12 booked this year. So far, 11 major conventions are booked in 2015.

About 236,000 room nights — the total number of nights individual rooms are used — have been booked at area hotels for 2014, compared to 129,000 all of last year.

The Convention & Visitors Bureau staff sells and markets Detroit and the region "during the prosperous times and in times where an impending bankruptcy makes our clients hesitant to book their meetings" in Detroit, Alexander said. "Despite those challenges, our bookings have never been better. It's amazing what can be done when we have a quality product to sell."

Detroit's finances are controlled by state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr. Orr has said the city's debt is at least $18 billion and filed for bankruptcy in July. A federal judge allowed Detroit into Chapter 9 in December, making it the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.

While many of the city's neighborhoods struggle with blight and crime, Detroit's downtown and Midtown areas continue to grow.

A $279 million renovation and expansion project at the Cobo convention center, along with new private sector investment downtown and an aggressive marketing campaign by the Convention & Visitors Bureau touting Detroit as "America's great comeback city" are among the reasons for the surge in conventions, Alexander added.

The annual North American International Auto Show recently drew more than 838,000 people to Cobo over two weeks.

About 5,000 people are expected downtown next month when the Nation of Islam holds its The Saviours' Day conference at Cobo. Other conventions and events booked in Detroit include the Automotive Services Association NACE-CARS Industry Week beginning in late July.

In May 2015, 10,000 people are expected to attend the USA Volleyball Open National Championships. The American Society of Association Executives — a group of more than 21,000 trade association, membership societies and volunteer organization executives — will hold its national convention downtown next year.

The Detroit area is at a point where regional cooperation is needed to help improve the city and keep its suburbs strong, said Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit, Inc.

Her organization is involved in community and small-business development, and marketing in Midtown.

"It is the collective whole that people look at when they make the decision: 'I want to invest in Detroit,' or 'I want to go down there. I want to spend a weekend there. I want to go to the hotels,'" Mosey said during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting. "They have to feel like somebody is working and connecting all of it together."

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