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.