August 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Cruise is big, but it could be bigger

The Woodward Dream Cruise is a reflection of what makes Detroit unique. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

The Woodward Dream Cruise is the coolest organic festival in the country. For 20 years, classic car enthusiasts and cruisers have been showing up on Woodward Avenue the third weekend in August to strut their stuff.

Despite being loosely organized, it has grown outlandishly, now clogging Woodward in Oakland County for four days with some of the finest examples of Detroit hardware you’ll see on the road anywhere, and up to a million gawkers.

One of the reasons the Dream Cruise’s full potential hasn’t been tapped is that the nine host communities have always been conflicted about the event, which is supposed to be contained to Saturday’s drive but has spilled way over.

The Cruise does draw hordes of visitors to the sponsoring towns, but that’s not necessarily a blessing. Many of the businesses along the route have to shut down on Saturday, and are impacted on the other days when cruisers begin showing up.

There’s also policing and cleanup costs. Sponsorships in recent years have helped — this year, Chevrolet is the name sponsor. But not enough money is raised to defray the total cost.

So the idea of growing the Cruise is met with wariness. Efforts over the years to bring the Cruise across Eight Mile into Detroit have sputtered, and won’t make sense until the M1-Rail construction ends in 2016.

I’ve always thought the Cruise should be the centerpiece of a week-long festival of the car that covers all of Metro Detroit.

We have great automotive attractions — The Henry Ford museum, the Rouge Plant tours — but so many others could be added. The historic Piquette Plant in Highland Park ought to be a museum of automotive manufacturing, and other ancient factories could serve similar roles.

Private and corporate automobile collections could be opened to the public. Hotels and casinos could host car clubs from throughout the country for Cruise conventions.

The festivities and cruising could move from place to place throughout the week, taking the pressure off Woodward Avenue businesses.

And more money would roll in. Ultimately, one side of Woodward could be closed to other vehicles on Cruise day, traffic limited only to classic cars and hot rods, and bleachers erected in the medium.

Purists chafe at any changes suggested to the Dream Cruise, worried that too much organizing will kill its grassroots spirit. But the Cruise can grow without destroying its nature.

“Whatever happens in the future, it should add to an already absolutely fabulous event in ways that make sense and benefit the entire community,” says Tony Michaels, who heads both the Woodward Dream Cruise and the Parade Company.

A regional car festival fits that goal. More tourists are coming here, largely due to Detroit’s new-discovered edginess. Eventually, they’ll need more to look at than tumble-down buildings. The Cruise could be the perfect catalyst for finally commercially exploiting Michigan’s rich automotive culture.
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