Detroit: A City on the Rise: The NAIAS and Cobo Center

The North American International Auto Show Logo

Welcome back to classes!  I hope all of you had a wonderful break and are ready to attack another semester here at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  Detroit saw some good and bad news over the course of the break.  One of the good stories that came out over break was none other than the North American International Auto Show.  It is returning yet again, to Cobo Center, and will be there for at least the next five years.

The “NAIAS” has roots that go all the way back to when Detroit first started producing automobiles.  The first auto show in Detroit was held in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverside Park, near the Ambassador Bridge.  It has been held annually every year in Detroit, except between 1943-1952.  The auto show has been held at Cobo Center since 1965, and was renamed the North American International Auto Show in 1989.

The auto show has been a big draw, not just for car lovers, but for the city of Detroit.  It brings in some major media outlets for the press preview, and a boat load of money during the charity preview.  This year the press preview ran from January 9-10, the Industry Preview on January 11-12, the Charity Preview on January 13, and the Public Show from January 14-22.

During the press preview, the media outlets that apply get a sneak peak to take pictures and develop stories on what cars are being revealed.  The car companies usually reveal production cars they plan on selling in the near future and concept cars, vehicles that they may use toward a future production car.  The industry preview is where companies bring in people to take notes on the vehicles, compare them to theirs, or others, without all of the crowds and some VIP hospitality.

The charity preview is where the city accumulates some funds privately.  The charity preview raises money for local charities.  This year the ticket cost was $250 per person, a black tie event.  The people in attendance are some of the most prestigious in the Metro Detroit area.  The possible guests range from Dan Gilbert, who is the third largest owner of real estate in Detroit, to some famous athletes from the Red Wings or Tigers.

Cobo Center looking down from Washington Blvd

Since 1976, the charity preview has raised $84 million for children’s charities in Metro Detroit.  $33 million of that has been raised in the past seven years alone.

The NAIAS rakes in an estimated amount of $500 million by the auto show executives for the area.  That beats out the Woodward Dream Cruise, held annually each August, by a long shot ($56 million).

Cobo Center, which is one of the largest convention centers in the world, boasts 2,400,000 sq ft.  It is located along Jefferson Ave. and Washington Blvd.  Its official address is 1 Washington Blvd.  It was built in 1960 and named after one of Detroit’s former mayors, Albert E. Cobo.  The exhibition space has access to the Lodge Freeway, and is located on the Detroit International Riverfront.  It also has access to the Detroit People Mover and the adjacent Joe Louis Arena.

The center is built on the original landing spot of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the Frenchman who founded Fort Ponchartrain, the beginnings of modern Detroit.  The building took four years and $56 million to complete.  It opened with approximately 1.4 million square feet.  The first ever convention held at Cobo was the Florist Telegraph Delivery.  Along with the exhibition space, Cobo Center also opened an arena, named Cobo Arena.  It had a capacity of 12,000 seats and was the home of the Detroit Pistons from 1961-1978.  The arena has also hosted many concerts, including Kid Rock, The Doors, Kiss, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, among many others.

As the North American International Auto Show began to grow each year, the convention began demanding more space, and threatened to move elsewhere.  Luckily, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority (DRCFA), who owns Cobo Center and the NAIAS agreed to a new five year deal, early this month to keep the auto show here for another five years at the very least.

What helped was an upgrade that started in 1989.  That upgrade added 2.4 million square feet.  That was the last time the facility was updated, and 20 years later, it was in desperate need of another.  It happened, and a brand new $229 million expansion project is in the works.  It is scheduled to be completed in January of 2015, in time for the auto show that year.  The plan is to demolish the seats in the arena to create a grand ballroom, and build a movable stage for better and more dramatic car reveals.  During the NAIAS this year, you won’t notice any upgrades, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.  A lot of the current renovations are happening out of sight, including making the building more energy efficient.

The proposed 3 story atrium

One big upgrade is the creation of a three-story atrium facing the riverfront.  The DRCFA will be using the riverfront to its advantage, to bring people in, and give the facility a wonderful view.  Along with the atrium, a brand new, high-tech digital video grid will be built across the front of the building’s façade.  New parking, a bigger and better food court, and a more open concourse are just a few of the items that are going to be upgraded at Cobo Center.
Finally, a new glass façade will wrap around the building from Washington and Jefferson to the Detroit River, giving you some amazing views of the river and Windsor, Ontario.

The North American International Auto Show is a Detroit thing, and keeping it at Cobo Center, where it has been held since 1965, is what every Metro Detroiter should want.  Heading to the NAIAS and checking out all the cool production and concept cars is a must.  Tickets are only $12 for adults, seniors 65 and older $6, children 7-12 $6, and children 6 and under are free.  The public show runs until Sunday, January 22 from 9am-10pm with no admittance after 9pm and on Sunday from 9am-7pm, no admittance after 6pm.  For more information visit and


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