Buffalo Rising: 'Surprising Road Trip: Detroit'

2012_0902AE.JPGIf you have ever visited the city of Detroit but haven't been back there in the last few years, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. The city has endured enormously difficult times, especially recently, but if there is one bright spot in Detroit, it would be the city's heart, downtown. Much has changed since I first visited Detroit in 2002. Businesses, retailers and restaurants have opened downtown, which is amazing considering it was written-off for dead. Quicken Loans, General Motors, Compuware and others large and small have made significant investments. The riverfront, waterfront and Campus Martius have become draws. Downtown is also seeing an influx of people to live, work and play.

Vacancies continue to plague the city, but downtown's historic properties, many vacant for decades, are finding new uses. Buildings are being renovated into offices, lofts or hotels, including the Westin Book-Cadillac hotel which is a model for the reusing Buffalo's Statler. At 29 stories, the Book-Cadillac was the world's tallest hotel when it was built back in 1924. It was vacated and left for dead in 1983 until finding new life in 2008.

This hotel, and the Holiday Inn Express across the street, have put some life back on Washington Boulevard, which was a failed pedestrian mall similar to Main Street in Buffalo. Like the Statler in Buffalo, the Book-Cadillac has played host to numerous weddings and receptions, bringing much-needed business into downtown.

Each of my four stays at the Book-Cadillac have been great and the rooms are very nice. The hotel takes up the first 23 floors and the top six floors are luxury condos. The Westin's trademark Heavenly Beds are almost second-to-none in comfort. Rooms are modern yet retain reminders of the building's history. There's even a cool gift shop of Detroit "swag" on the ground.

Redevelopment in the city has been focused on sports (Comerica Park, Ford Field and Joe Louis Arena), the arts and culture (Detroit's Theater District is said to be second only to New York's for the number of theaters), education, health care, and casinos (three).

My last visit was in September, while attending a couple of Detroit Tigers games and over the weekend, paid a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in the nearby suburb of Dearborn (which is about a $20 cab ride or 7 miles from downtown). The museum includes the incredible historic Greenfield Village, where you can find Henry Ford's childhood farm and home, the Wright Brothers Bike Shop and House, and Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory.

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