It put the world on wheels, introduced the Motown sound, and is a symbol of American grit and innovation. For more than three centuries, Detroit has been one of the world’s most exciting cities—and it’s just getting started.
“Right now, there are 11 cranes above the skyline, with several of Michigan’s largest skyscrapers under construction, including the 49-story development at the former Hudson’s department store site,” says Claude Molinari, president and CEO of Visit Detroit. “A lot of people have decided that Detroit is the place to be.”
Special D Events, a Detroit-based destination management company, coordinates numerous meetings and conferences in the city each year. The team assisted in planning events surrounding Super Bowl XL in 2006, and they’re currently preparing for similar happenings around the NFL Draft, which will come to the city in 2024. Carol Galle, president and CEO of Special D Events, sums up Detroit’s singular appeal: “With Detroit, it’s about history and hustle,” she says. “The city has an authentic presence that people quickly sense and appreciate. When visitors talk to our people, walk our streets, and sample our cuisine, they come away with a solid understanding of how our past continues to influence our future.”
Distinctly Detroit Venues
When the American Bus Association was seeking a location to host its annual Marketplace in 2023, which will bring thousands of bus and tour operators, suppliers, and travel industry representatives together, Detroit made perfect sense.
“I fell in love with the city as a kid,” says Peter Pantuso, the association’s president and CEO. “I grew up in Pennsylvania, but on a trip to Wisconsin, my dad made sure we stopped [in Detroit] and did a tour of an auto plant, and it stuck in my mind. I came back a few years ago for a conference, and I was wowed by all the renovations going on. It felt like a city that was rising from the ashes and really reinventing itself.”
The American Bus Association’s 2023 Marketplace will be held at downtown’s Huntington Place where, for more than 60 years, countless noteworthy events, including the annual North American International Auto Show, have been held. The nation’s 16th largest meeting and convention center, the 2.4-million-square-foot facility, formerly known as TCF Center, recently underwent a $279-million renovation. Boasting spectacular river views, the expanded center has five exhibit halls, 100 meeting rooms, and eight banquet rooms, including Michigan’s largest ballroom. There are also a 50,000-square-foot exterior plaza for outdoor event options and a three-story, 30,000-square-foot glass atrium.
Just across the street from Huntington Place is the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which brings modern style to smaller meetings and conferences. Named one of the best new hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2018, the 100-room Foundation features one of Detroit’s most popular restaurants, The Apparatus Room. Its meeting and conference spaces can accommodate up to 120 people, and an outdoor reception deck features breathtaking city views. Another boutique property, The Shinola Hotel, opened in January 2019. This trendy, modern hotel features 129 guest rooms, as well as a ballroom, conference center, bar, conservatory, and other meeting areas that can accommodate up to 180 guests for a variety of events.
For larger events, some of hospitality’s biggest names have made their home in Detroit. Inside the iconic Renaissance Center, long a symbol of the city’s perseverance and pride, is a Marriott hotel, featuring 100,000 square feet of meeting space with 46 meeting rooms of varying sizes able to accommodate more than 2,000 guests. The Renaissance Center is capped by Highlands, one of Detroit’s finest dining establishments, which offers unparalleled city views. Down the road is the Westin Book Cadillac. Opened in 1924 and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel is home to many of the city’s swankiest events. The Book Cadillac features more than 7,500 square feet of meeting space and is located just steps from a French cafe, coffee shop, bicycle store, and several city parks.
“Having large, name-brand hotels in the city like Marriott and Westin is critical if we want to attract large events to our city,” says Galle, the president and CEO of Special D Events. “But we also love working with the smaller properties that really showcase our city’s personality. The Shinola Hotel and the Foundation Hotel, for instance, are always popular. Venue wise, we have all shapes and sizes.”
Meeting and conference space is also available at the city’s three world-class casinos, as well as Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena. Cultural venues, including the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Detroit Public Library’s main branch, welcome corporate events, too.
Dining in the D
No visit is complete without sampling Detroit’s stellar culinary fare. “Detroit offers so much diversity among its people and its attractions,” says Galle, “and the same is true of our food. From fine dining to craft breweries, and from East African cuisine to coney dogs, there’s endless variety.”
One of the best ways to experience Detroit’s robust food scene is by exploring its neighborhoods. Greektown offers authentic Greek fare at The Pegasus Tavern and the Golden Fleece, and the neighborhood is also home to Fishbones, a New Orleans-inspired seafood restaurant, and the decadent Astoria Pastry Shop. Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, is where you’ll find Mudgie’s Deli, beloved brunch spot Bobcat Bonnie’s, and delicious Italian fare at Ottava Via. Eastern Market is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and a new $33-million redevelopment will soon feature The Mosaic, a 105,000-square-foot food hall with a rooftop bar, just north of the area.
If you’re looking for elegance, look no further than The Whitney in Detroit’s Midtown district. The celebrated restaurant offers fine dining in an 1894 mansion and is available for special events and receptions. Guests seeking a uniquely Detroit dining experience can board the Detroit Princess riverboat, which offers beautiful views as it floats down the Detroit River. The riverboat can also be booked for special events and private cruises accommodating up to 1,500 guests.
For team-building exercises or post-event hangouts, Detroit has no shortage of attractions. Its acclaimed River Walk, named the best in the country by USA Today, offers unparalleled city views and features a merry-go-round, concession areas, and several parks along its 3.5 miles.
“You can’t beat the view with Canada right across the river,” says Claude Molinari, president and CEO of Visit Detroit, “And there are $50 million in enhancements coming to connect it to the Ambassador Bridge, add a park with water features, and so much more.”
Detroit’s many urban parks are great places to unwind. Most popular is Campus Martius Park, located in the heart of downtown. The park features several drinking and dining options, a beautiful fountain, outdoor seating, and pop-up shops. In the winter, Campus Martius is home to an ice-skating rink under the city Christmas tree. In the summer, the ice is replaced with sand, drinks, and lounge chairs to create an urban beach oasis.
Sports fans won’t have to venture far to cheer on the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, or Pistons; all play in what’s known as The District Detroit, the densest concentration of four major sports teams in any urban core in the country. For those eager for some friendly competition of their own, The Garden Bowl offers 16 lanes in America’s oldest bowling establishment.
Art abounds here, too. The city is a popular cultural destination, with several museums and galleries, including the Detroit Institute of Arts—home to Diego Rivera’s renowned “Detroit Industry” frescos—Detroit Historical Museum, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. At the Motown Museum, guests can stand where The Temptations and the Supremes created their legendary hits.
Just outside the city’s limits is the Detroit Zoo, home to 2,800 animals representing 239 species. The zoo hosts hundreds of groups each year, from 20 to several thousand people. Larger groups have the option of renting the entire 125 acres of the zoo for an after-hours strolling reception or picnic.
A short drive from downtown Detroit in nearby Dearborn is The Henry Ford. The 250-acre destination consists of five attractions: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, The Henry Ford Giant Screen Experience, and Benson Ford Research Center.
“The museum itself spans 12 acres with 9 acres of exhibits,” says Amy Cox, senior director of sales at The Henry Ford. “We can do events for up to 5,000 guests and as few as ten.”
Last fall, Kim Hoodin, an independent event producer, held a strolling reception at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation for 150 executives who were attending the annual meeting of a manufacturing institute. “Most of our attendees come from some sort of engineering background,” Hoodin says, “and when they walked into the museum, right past an exhibit of presidential limos, they lit up. It was like watching kids at Christmas.”
Anna Hudson, director of meetings and events for the Association for Packing and Processing Technologies, had a similar experience when she brought 250 attendees of a three-day conference at Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center to The Henry Ford, first for a tour of the Ford Rouge Factory (birthplace of iconic cars like the Model A, Mustang, and Thunderbird) and then for an after-hours strolling reception at the museum. “The venue was really accommodating to our group,” Hudson says. “One of the great things was people were able to walk around with their food and drinks. It sounds like a small thing, but it meant that people could enjoy the exhibits, which often isn’t the case when you hold an event at a museum.”
Detroit is the home of the automobile, but conference attendees won’t need to rent a car to explore the city before or after meetings. Pop-up bike and scooter rentals can be found throughout Detroit, and the city’s public transportation is convenient, affordable, and easy to navigate. Plus, downtown, the elevated Detroit People Mover provides transportation to a variety of locations with stops at the Renaissance Center, Huntington Place, Greektown, and more.
Detroit will soon be home to the first public electric vehicle charging road in the United States. When completed in 2023, the mile-long road will wirelessly charge electric vehicles as they move, with no 30-minute stops to plug in or hunt down charging ports required—just another way Detroit is living up to its Motor City moniker and history of innovation.