While the renovations and expansion of Detroit’s Cobo Center is still just over halfway completed, it took a big step Saturday night when the 40,000 square foot Grand River Ballroom was opened to the public for the first time.
“This isn’t just a new paint job,” said Larry Alexander, president and CEO of Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and chairman of the authority board that oversees the venue. “This is emblematic of the transition of an aging and decrepit structure into a sleek, state-of-the-art facility.”
Alexander spoke to about 300 of Cobo Center’s tradeshow and events industry customers and members of the media. At the same time as the ballroom opened, it also was the public’s first look at a 30,000 sq. ft. glass-walled atrium that opens up to views of the nearby Detroit Riverfront. The opening is the latest step in a $279 million project to upgrade, modernize, renovate and expand the convention center that started in 2010 and will be completed in 2015.
The upgrades already have added 22,500 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a massive digital video screen serving as the outdoor marquee and extensive upgrades throughout the convention center will be completed over the next two years.
The new atrium and ballroom are on the site of the former Cobo Arena that opened in 1960 and was the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons until 1978, as well as the scene of a number of memorable music performances.
Thom Connors, SMG regional vice president and general manager of Cobo Center, said he had spoken to five people last week who remembered events they had seen at the arena over the last 50 years.
Among them have been local favorites like Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin along with The Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols.
“But this represent a new era for Cobo,” Connors said Saturday at the inauguration of the new space.