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The tourism industry is big business. The Detroit metro area alone took in about $5 billion in tourism last year — but this can be improved. Southeast Michigan is home to scores of lakes and rivers as well as gaming casinos and about 350 golf courses. But for tourism to have an even more significant impact on the local economy, the city has to address the following:
Get retailers in. Assuming Detroit remains at or near its current size, the city will need to significantly expand its retail tax base. There are currently no Macy’s or Target stores anywhere within the city limits. Nor is there any supermarket chains. If an environment can be created to allow retailers to remain viable, it will encourage local spending, increase tourism and increase property values.
Reduce the crime rate. Granted, this can be said for just about any city in the world. But people will not move into a city where they don’t feel safe. And businesses won’t want to set up shop there — no matter how inexpensive the real estate may be. In July, Mayor Bing appointed former Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans to head the city police department, charging him to reduce the city’s crime rate.
Improve mass transit. This is a very costly endeavor but needs to be addressed, and unfortunately, the city’s budget issues lead to the mayor’s decision to cut bus service within the city. This was much to the chagrin (and many protests) of city residents. The fact is urban folks generally don’t drive. They take buses, trains and taxis to get around. Currently, Detroit’s mass transit system consisted of 42 bus routes that carried 38.6 million riders last year, and the “People Mover,” a 2.9-mile automated light rail system that consists of a dozen vehicles. “There have been a number of initiatives thrown out to create a system that runs from Ann Arbor to downtown Detroit, and consequently would take in part of the airport to bring people down,” says Mike O’Callaghan, executive vice president and COO at the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That gets bantered about now and then and I hope that it has some legs. I can’t tell you that it does.”
Expand the Cobo Center. The Cobo Center has 700,000 square feet and its website claims it to be the 19th largest convention center in the country. However, built nearly 50 years ago and last expanded 20 years ago, it lacks some of the modern amenities that convention planners look for. In fact, there were mutterings that the city might lose its coveted International Auto Show as a result of these shortcomings. These fears have lessened with Gov. Jennifer Granholm signing a bill authorizing the $300 million expansion/renovation of the Cobo Center.
Improve city services. Another big to-do item. But when you start looking at the services that you have to provide for your citizens, water, sewage, healthcare, transportation, police and fire, recreation, garbage pickup, those are the things that people here expect day in and day out, and residents say the city hasn’t been very good at that.