Packed hotels offer hope for a busier downtown


Downtown Detroit is just about booked for the weekend.

With at least four conventions in town, and the Lions home opener against the Green Bay Packers, it could be hard to find a room downtown.

Visitors found themselves in a similar state two weekends ago, as Detroit welcomed the Grand Prix, the Jazz Festival and Tigers fans, along with attendees for cultural, music and gaming offerings.

MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino have worked together on several occasions to accommodate large groups between the two's combined 800 rooms, officials say.

The successes show the potential for the city to generate enough business to support the nearly 2,000 hotel rooms that, by the end of this year, will have been added since 2004, even while opening during tough economic times, convention and hospitality leaders say. The long-anticipated Westin Book Cadillac hotel and the Fort Shelby Doubletree Guest Suites will join newly opened hotels like the MGM Grand and MotorCity Casino in trying to attract conventions.
The 367-room Detroit Riverside Hotel, across from Cobo Hall, also underwent a $35-million face-lift this year.

Click here for a graphic of hotels in the area.

A four-day convention of 1,000 people would generate $1.2 million for the local economy and be a big boost to the city, said Mike O'Callaghan, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Weekends are now strong, hotels report. The key to succeeding over the long haul, they say, will be to attract business during weekdays, which could prove an immediate challenge.

"We're running hard to get business to Detroit," O'Callaghan said.

The bureau has increased its sales staff by 20% to 24 people, dispatching teams to Washington, Chicago, Lansing and Los Angeles. It has two people dedicated solely to attracting and servicing the growing film production business lured by the state's large incentives.

It has landed successes, such as the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics, which used 40,000 rooms over a week in July. The United States Bowling Congress women's championships in Canton that went on for almost three months this summer used more than 30,000 rooms.

The saga surrounding departing Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick hurt the convention business this year. The Conference of Black Mayors moved its 2,000-delegate, four-day meeting set for June from Detroit to New Orleans, citing Kilpatrick's legal troubles.

Detroit's biggest challenge to attracting conventions now is Cobo Center, O'Callaghan said.
"It's a property that is showing its age," he said, adding that it needs to be expanded and its governance tweaked to accommodate input from all three counties.

Meanwhile, the existing hotels will have an impact on attracting midsize conventions and meetings to casino hotels.

John Hutar, MGM Grand Detroit vice president of hotel operations, said all the growth will allow for booking conventions that couldn't fit in Detroit beforehand.

"It used to be that if Cobo Hall had availability but the large hotels were sold out, Detroit could not accommodate that convention," Hutar said.

"We have dates in 2010 and 2011 where new entrants such as MGM, MotorCity and the Westin Book Cadillac are splitting the conventions," he said.

So far, MGM Grand has been exceeding expectations over the weekends, largely due to professional sports, he added.

"Detroit is an incredible sports town," he said. "We have high occupancy when the Lions are in town, and that gets amplified when the Red Wings start their season."

In August, even though the MGM was a late entrant to book guests for the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, it still did well.

The MotorCity Casino's hotel also has been bustling on weekends.

"We've had lots of social events, weddings almost every weekend, it has been really busy," said Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Cohen. For the Grand Prix, a Dodge Viper fan club of 900 people was split between the MotorCity and the MGM Grand.

And she welcomes increased competition from the Westin Book Cadillac, which is to open next month, and the Fort Shelby Doubletree, which is to open in December.

The Book Cadillac is to add 453 rooms; the Fort Shelby is to add 203 suites.

"Quality products are good for the whole market," Cohen said. "The more quality products that come downtown, the better it is for downtown."

Shannon Dunavent, general manager of the Fort Shelby, said bookings are strong for existing events such as the NCAA Final Four in April, the North American International Auto Show in January and the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in the spring.

Scott Stinebaugh, director of sales at the Westin Book Cadillac, says that despite strong bookings for weddings and parties, 2009 could prove to be a challenging year.

"The auto industry is challenged, and the amount of citywide business in 2009 is down," he said. "It's going to be a transitional year for the downtown market. It remains to be seen how the market absorbs the additional inventory.

"But again, and you'll hear this over and over, we couldn't attract larger conventions unless we have enhanced room packages. This had to happen to reap the benefits."
by Crain's Detroit Business

Travelers coming into Detroit through the Detroit Windsor Tunnel next year will be able to use electronic toll cards to more quickly get over the border.

The tunnel plaza on the Detroit side will also be expanded next year to include an 11th inspection lane, and all incoming lanes will be upgraded by the end of November to add all current and some pending electronic identification technology.The $3.8 million project was announced Monday morning at a press conference by Neal Belitsky, CEO and general manager of Detroit Windsor Tunnel L.L.C.
“The goal is to provide accelerated service,” he said, with the target being a 20 percent boost in capacity and a reduction in wait times.

No date was announced for the toll cards to go on sale, but Belitsky said it will be in the spring.

The electronic cards are initially for entering the U.S. side of the border, Belitsky said. Plans remain under discussion with Canadian authorities to implement the service in Windsor.

Electronic devices will instantly deduct the cost of crossing prior to entering the tunnel, and can be ordered and recharged online.

Some lanes will require the cards 24 hours a day, he said.Currently, the tunnel has two lanes for Nexus card holders, but that will be expanded to all lanes this year.

Additionally, all lanes will be able to process the forthcoming improved passports and drivers licenses that will include electronic identification capabilities, Belitsky said.

The new toll cards, which will be usable only at the tunnel, will have some sort of rewards program for frequent travelers, but details on the incentives are being worked out.

The tunnel will continue to accept cash, credit cards and tokens, Belitsky said.Tokens eventually will be phased out, with sales ending at some point, but no date has been set for their elimination at the tunnel, Belitsky said.About 6 million vehicles use the tunnel annually now, Belitsky said, down from about 9 million prior to 2001. During 3 p.m.-7 p.m. rush hour, about 1,000 vehicles an hour use the tunnel.

The tunnel company will launch what it calls a “major marketing campaign” about six months before the cards go live, he said. That includes a push at area hospitals for nurses to use the cards because a large number of nurses in the region cross the border.

The plaza expansion will include infrastructure improvements, a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, renovated roadway and implementation of dual-service booths.


Rap mogul Jay-Z is throwing his weight behind Sen. Barack Obama's Michigan campaign with a free concert Saturday at Cobo Arena in Detroit.

WWJ Newsradio 950 reports that the seven-time Grammy winner will headline a rally aimed at boosting voter registratrion and getting young people involved in Obama's campaign.

Beginning at 3 p.m. today, anyone age 18 and over can pick up a free pair of tickets at select Obama campaign offices in the Detroit area. You don't have to be a registered voter to get tickets, a campaign spokesperson said.

The concert begins at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Say Hello To Your Weekend Ride: The Night Move

The Night Move is a completely new beast for Metro Detroit: a dedicated shuttle service between its three most-happening downtown districts of Detroit, Royal Oak and Ferndale. The service officially launches Thursday, October 9, with a celebratory gala at the Woodward Avenue Brewery to kick off the inaugural weekend.

To start, Night Move will run Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. Tickets are $12 round-trip and guarantee you a spot at the time you reserve; as long as there is an available seat, ticket-holders are free to hop on at another time. Booking is required; the page can be found at Preliminarily Greektown, Woodward and E. Troy and Fifth and Washington are the three shuttle stops, although rider feedback and demand may alter those.

The bus is a 1997 vehicle in mint shape that seats 30. It runs on B20 biodiesel.

The Night Move has partnered with Clean Emission Fluids, a company that specializes in biofuels and clean diesel.Owner Chris Ramos wants to be clear that The Night Move is no party bus. "We want people to get on and go to the Opera House or the Fox Theater," he says. "It doesn't have to be a party crowd -- we're trying to increase traffic between all the cities."
Giffels-Webster, along with Archive DS, Carter & Burgess, and Brogan & Partners, was selected to assist the City of Detroit in embarking on an enormously significant opportunity to expand the current concepts of “non-motorized transportation” in the City of Detroit.

These green threads are a vision beyond parks, plants, and the visual aspects of the past. The new urban trails encompass transportation, urban wildlife, flood control, utilities, education, neighborhood planning, and other threads of the urban fabric

The environmental scan of the city along with the extensive community involvement helped clarify the dynamics of various corridors and uncover community treasures, landmarks, destinations, and neighborhood resources. The urban trails connect diverse and incompatible land uses and bridge the isolation of car-based planning and architectural monuments. Accordingly, the Urban Non-Motorized Transportation Master Plan has become a vital component of a world-class city and affirms the continuing commitment in neighborhood revitalization.

Map of Plan
Michigan officials say now is the time to buy energy-efficient light bulbs because they are being sold at a reduced rate.

Starting Wednesday, about 500,000 compact fluorescent bulbs will be available for as little as 99 cents at Kroger, Meijer and Menards stores across the state. They also will be sold at Ace Hardware stores in the Lansing area and Upper Peninsula.

The bulbs are cheaper thanks in part to a state grant.

The Michigan Public Service Commission says compact fluorescent bulbs save at least $30 in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime. They use less energy than incandescent bulbs and last longer.

The announcement of cheaper bulbs is part of a national effort encouraging simple ways to preserve energy resources and address climate change. and WDFN-AM (1130) are reporting that the Lions have removed team president and CEO Matt Millen from his post, ending one of the most criticized tenures in Detroit sports history.

Millen was informed of the move last night during a late-night high-level meeting. This morning several people within the building confirmed that he had large packing boxes in his office, according to reports.

It is unclear if Millen was fired or removed himself from the equation, but the news comes just days after Bill Ford Jr. publicly stated he would have fired Millen if it were his decision but he lacked the authority to do so. The authority rested with his father, William Clay Ford Sr., who has been the sole owner of the Lions since 1964.

Phone messages left for Millen, head coach Rod Marinelli and other team officials were not returned.

The Lions' 0-3 start this season stirred the groundswell for Millen's apparent demise. The Lions have won only one playoff game during Ford's tenure and are an NFL-worst 31-84 since Millen took over in 2001. Millen has gone through three head coaches, none of whom have been able to turn the Lions into a winner.

Old Detroit Metro terminal could become film set

ROMULUS (AP) -- The 51-year-old L.C. Smith Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport could get a new life as a set for movies and TV shows.

The Detroit News reported Tuesday that producers and airport officials say the Smith Terminal is a moviemaker's dream. Airlines that use the Smith Terminal this month will begin flying out of the new North Terminal.

Wayne County Airport Authority spokesman Scott Wintner says the airport in Romulus is working to help attract productions.

The terminal would be attractive because it wouldn't have active passenger service or security concerns.

Filmmakers have been flocking to Michigan since April, when Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law a package of bills offering lucrative incentives to film companies that bring in their projects.
Detroit figures into at least three selections in the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off today.

The fall festival, currently in its 34th year, is a launching pad for Oscar contenders and important independent and art films -- a way for big-ticket films to build buzz and smaller projects to land deals with distributors.

With 312 films showing over the next week-and-a-half, creating separation from the pack is no easy feat. But here are a couple of films with local angles that are trying to do just that:

• "Detroit Metal City" is a live-action comedy, based on a popular Japanese graphic novel, about a mild-mannered musician who finds himself in full demon makeup fronting the notorious Detroit Metal City, known for vile lyrics and smashing hotel rooms. A midnight premiere late Friday night will be followed by screenings Saturday and Sept. 11.

• In "Flash of Genius," Greg Kinnear plays real-life Richard Kearns, the Wayne State University and University of Detroit grad who successfully sued Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler for $30 million over allegations that they stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper. Alan Alda, Lauren Graham and Dermot Mulroney costar. It shows Sunday, Tuesday and Sept. 11 before a national release in October.

• Former Detroiter Jack White is generating festival buzz over "It Might Get Loud," a documentary that pairs the White Stripes front man, Jimmy Page and U2's the Edge in an examination of how to play the electric guitar. The highlight of the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth"), comes when the trio gets together for a jam session and combines their many influences. All are expected to attend the Friday night premiere, though the film also screens Sunday and closing night, Sept. 13.

The fest's complex ticket system is harder to decipher than the tax code, but you may still be able to attend. 416-968-3456 or 877-968-3456.

Doc uses humor, dignity to discuss death: The makers of "Except for Six" want nothing less than to change the way that people think about death and end-of-life care. The documentary, screening at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Emagine Novi and produced in conjunction with Hospice of Michigan, uses emotion and humor to humanize the dying process and hospice's role in it. The title refers both to the six months that patients typically require hospice care and the importance of the six people enlisted to carry you to your final resting place. After premieres here and in Grand Rapids, the film will be shown on PBS affiliates in Michigan. 44425 W. Twelve Mile Road, Novi. 888-466-5656. Tickets $50, with business attire recommended.

Classics return to Northville Marquis: Friday's screening of the 1974 Agatha Christie thriller "Murder on the Orient Express" ushers in a monthlong classic film series at the historic Marquis Theatre in downtown Northville. The event marks the 30th anniversary of the 1925 theater's renovation. All tickets are $5 (including a box of popcorn) for the 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday screenings, all projected on digital video. On the bill: Saturday: "Operation Petticoat." Sept. 12: "The Natural." Sept. 13: "The Great Gatsby." Sept. 19: "Gaslight." Sept. 20: "Funny Girl." Sept. 26: "The Sundowners." Sept. 27: "Out of Africa." 135 E. Main Street, Northville. 248-349-7640.

Magic seeks movie reviewer: Auditions for a hometown movie reviewer at Jim Harper's Morning Magic Show (WMGC-FM, 105.1) continue Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Art & Apples Festival at Municipal Park in downtown Rochester. The position is unpaid, but the winner will get to attend advance screenings of films and broadcast their reviews on the show each week from January to June. Applicants (21 and over) also can send a recording to the station. Complete details at
The State Administrative Board, which approves contracts for state agencies, last week approved the addition of $100,694 and one year to a deal between the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments to develop a demonstration of a commuter rail line linking Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The money is for infrastructure improvements and passenger rail equipment, such as train cars.The state money is in addition to $450,000 in Federal Highway Administration funds earmarked for the demonstration project.

The deal was extended to February 2010.

SEMCOG, the regional planning agency for metro Detroit through which federal transit project money flows, has been studying for some time the feasibility and cost of a high-speed passenger railroad route connecting the two cities.

It would link into a proposed Woodward Avenue commuter line, and a wider regional system in the future.The goal is to have the 48-mile Ann Arbor-Detroit route running by 2010.

SEMCOG is in negotiations with three railroads that own the tracks, is studying funding options for the route and is considering what cars would be used.Amtrak would be contracted to operate the line.
There are some great opportunities coming up to see Detroit from the luxury of your own, or a rented, bike. The best part of these tours is that they take you into the city's neighborhoods at a pace that affords participants the chance to admire the architecture and get a real feel for the places.

The annual Tour de Troit is Saturday, Sept. 20. Take in 40 miles of the city at a leisure pace with several hundred of your closest friends. It's a police escorted ride through Downtown, Eastern Market, Brush Park, Boston Edison, University District, Palmer Park, Old Redford and Grandmont-Rosedale.Last year 600 people participated. Advance registration is strongly encouraged to guarantee a T-Shirt. Register by Sept. 13 to ensure you'll get one.

Advance Registration is $25, $15 for students. Day-of-ride registration is $35 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. But wait, there's more. Wheelhouse Detroit, the city's newest bike rental and repair shop, is also offering weekly tours of Detroit's neighborhoods. Each week, they feature a different portion of the city, and most rides are around 15-25 miles. Upcoming tours include Southwest Detroit (9/13), The Villages (9/27), Boston Edison (9/28), Creekside (10/04) and the Conner Creek Greenway (10/5). Wheelhouse also offers weekly tours of Downtown and the Woodward corridor, offered in conjunction with Inside Detroit. For more information and pricing, check their web site.