The fall and rise of Detroit

By | Category: Travel destinations

Detroit, or America’s great comeback city, as it is so commonly referred to these days, is a beacon of tenacity and fortitude according to their tourist board. Is this just tourist office hype to entice us to visit the city or is there justification?

the planned new penguin center

the planned new penguin center

I have visited Detroit frequently, usually to change planes because it was a mjor hub for North West Airlines, now Delta. Only twice have I wandered around the city and once was by accident because my flight was cancelled so I was put up in a down-town hotel. then the city was looking a little shabby but today…

It’s true that a lot of development is taking place such as a renovation of the convention centre and new hotels are being built so business visitors might be attracted but will we – the leisure traveller – visit?

For us to be attracted, run-down areas need sprucing up and that is what is happening in the middle of the city. who have already invested more than $1.9 billion in Detroit, recently announced its plan to develop a new innovative district made up of residential, retail and office facilities in Detroit’s downtown core. This $650 million project will provide residential and office accommodation as well as a a new multi-purpose arena that will be the new home for the Detroit Red Wings

Given the price of houses, spending $21 million for one might be termed extravagant. But not if it attracts visitors. That is the sum being spent on The Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center at Detroit Zoo will be a $21 million, 24,000-square-foot facility featuring a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water for visitors so you will be able to watch them dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. Apparently you can’t see penguins deep water dive anywhere else in the world and certainly not in the wild. The facility will open in 2015.

Detroit’s Midtown is one of its fastest developing neighbourhoods which is attracting people because of its restaurants, galleries, community gardens and markets. Local entrepreneurs have made Midtown a hub for small retail businesses making the area a popular place for shopping as opposed to the huge malls that Americans so favour. Neighbourhoods means small, boutique and friendly and the midtown area has gone for this in a big way. Midtown is also at the core of a local rail development (remember this was the capital of the American car industry) and greenways and bike paths are being installed as well.

For those who prefer the bigger retailing outlets there are plenty. From the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, the Somerset Collection and the Mall at Partridge Creek to multiple downtown shopping districts, such as Birmingham, Royal Oak, Plymouth and Rochester, you should be able to find all you’d expect from an American mall

A slightly unusual attraction is the DNR Outdoor Adventure and Discovery Center. This one-of-a-kind facility will provide visitors with opportunities to see, feel, hear and touch Michigan’s outdoors. Displays and exhibits will tell about the natural and cultural resources that can be found throughout Michigan. Through exhibits, displays and simulators visitors can experience the thrill of reeling in the big fish that almost got away, climb high above the treetops and see how a fire tower keeps the forest safe, explore ways to help the environment and conduct experiments involving soil, water and other natural resources.

With two hundred years of service Westview Orchards, the third oldest farm in Michigan, is an unexpected oddity to be found in the depths of a city. Essentially for kids they can climb Straw Mountain, get lost (but hopefully not) in a corn maze, jump on huge inflatable pillows and making friends at a petting zoo.

the offical carriage used by President Theodore Roosevelt © the Henry Ford

the offical carriage used by President Theodore Roosevelt © the Henry Ford

Detroit is forever linked with cars and you can’t possibly visit the city without coming across their legacy. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn chronicles the growth of the mass market adoption of the car. The Model “T” available in any colour as long as it was black ,  The museum houses an array of exhibits  as well as one  of the finest automotive history collections in the country but it is not solely about the car. It is more about the development of industry in Detroit and Michigan.  Exhibits include the world’s most accurate replica of the Wright brothers’ Flyer, the only remaining prototype of the Dymaxion house, and John F. Kennedy’s fateful Dallas limousine.

Not far away – and continuing a transport theme – is The Yankee Air Museum housed at Willow Run Airport and which was, built by Ford Motor Company in 1941 to serve as an airfield for its B-24 Bomber Plant.  This was the first aircraft manufacturing plant to use Ford’s mass production technique and, at its height, employed 42,000 and produced a B-24 every 59 minutes! The Yankee Air Museum has an impressive collection of aircraft including a B-24 Bomber, B-17 Flying Fortress, and B-25 Mitchell among other but the best part is that you can actually book a flight in one of these aircraft!

Even the family-friendly Michigan Science Center has automotive links having a Chrysler Science Stage a Chrysler IMAX theatre.  Perhaps surprisingly, it also has a Toyota Engineering Theater and a planetarium named for the French Aerospace company, Dassault Systèmes.

Whilst the emphasis may seem to be on vehicles, Detroit is known for something else and no visit would be complete if you didn’t go and see The Motown Historical Museum. In 1959, Berry Gordy Jr. bought a home, moving his family into one half and setting up a studio in the other.  From this building grew Motown  which became -by the mid-70s-  the largest independent record company in the world.  A visit can include a tour of the studio where Motown greats such as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson Five actually recorded their hits.

So whilst the past plays heavily with Detroit it’s a past that will attract visitors. The newer developments providing better, more modern shopping, a boutique culture and trading on the best of its past only shows that Detroit is following the car industry marketing approach. Always refine, re-invent and have something new to entice the buyers!

For more information about Detroit, click here.

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