Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
The Detroit PR machine is spinning faster than the wheels of a Mustang.
Local officials were on the streets and on social media Monday, trying to persuade journalists here for the North American International Auto Show that the city is about more than bankruptcy.
Guided media tours are being offered to out-of-town automotive writers, showcasing Metro Detroit’s positive strides, from new apartments and startup businesses in downtown and Midtown to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Elected officials and city goodwill ambassadors posted Top-10 lists on social media, detailing spots to eat, drink and shop.
“We can only hope those journalists are going to write stories about the resurgence of the city from Cobo to New Center,” Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president and COO of the Metro Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in an interview. “They have a couple of great stories they can write: new vehicles, the comeback of the auto industry and the comeback of the city.
“That hasn’t been the case here maybe ever.”
One downtown group took advantage of the B word to lure curious journalists away from Cobo Center, where some 5,000 credentialed members of the media from around the world have come to see new cars and trucks.
“Beyond the Bankruptcy” tours include stops at spots such as downtown’s Art Deco Guardian Building, Midtown’s Auburn apartment/retail complex and Traffic Jam & Snug, a popular Midtown eatery. The tour, sponsored by D:Hive, an information hub downtown, is available to the general public, too.
“We want to give them the real story of what’s happening in Detroit,” said Jeanette Pierce, D:Hive’s director of community relations. “We’re focusing on small business, community members and a lot of the success stories you don’t hear about.”
@VisitDetroit, the Twitter handle for the city’s convention bureau, re-tweeted posts of visitors’ experiences in the Motor City. They ran the gamut from a Texas writer calling her visit “epic” to accolades for the Henry Ford in Dearborn.
Even Detroit’s new mayor, Mike Duggan, was pushing the positive. On Monday, Duggan re-tweeted a link about the best spots to eat in the city.
And despite the bankruptcy concerns, the hashtag #NAIAS was a U.S.-wide trending topic on Twitter for much of Monday afternoon. Most comments about Detroit on the social media site focused on the auto show and news of foundations making donations to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Heike Kaufhold, a blogger from Cologne, Germany, skipped the media events at Cobo on Monday to take a tour of the city that included stops at the river, downtown, Midtown and the Henry Ford.
“Everybody told us the city is dead in a kind of way,” she said. “My impression is it’s still uprising. I get a really fresh feeling. It’s lovely.”
Kaufhold said she’s recommending the tour to other media friends and will write a positive review when she returns to Germany.
Tina Kaiser, a U.S. business correspondent with Die Welt, a German daily, took a D:Hive tour on Saturday and was impressed with the city’s architecture.
“I learned lots of new stuff about Detroit and really liked the vibe of the shops, restaurants and bars,” she said. Kaiser plans to publish an article on “Detroit’s comeback” in Welt am Sonntag, the country’s largest Sunday paper.
Still, national and international media outlets on Monday devoted ink and pixels to the city’s fiscal plight.
The New York Times ran an article detailing Detroit’s tale-of-two-cities storyline of a vibrant downtown and struggling neighborhoods and concluded a trouble-free auto show was crucial.
“With Detroit’s worldwide reputation as shaky as its finances, it desperately needs a successful show to improve its battered image,” wrote New York Times business reporter Bill Vlasic.
The Associated Press declared that the “North American International Auto Show offers more for bankrupt city than flashier Super Bowl.” It quoted local economists who detailed how vital the show’s estimated $400 million economic impact would be. As of Monday, the story had been picked up by outlets such as ABC News, the Minnesota Star Tribune and CBC News in Canada.
But not everyone is getting the message.
The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean daily, said Monday “the future of the Detroit Motor Show also seemed at risk” when the city filed for bankruptcy last July. The article also misidentified Cobo’s owner as the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.
The convention center has been run by the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority since it took over ownership from the city in 2009, and was in no danger of losing the show after the city filed for bankruptcy. Rod Alberts, executive director of the show, said in a statement the day after the filing that the bankruptcy would “have no impact” on the NAIAS.
D:Hive’s Pierce said the purpose of the tours were to help debunk bad information and help out-of-towners see firsthand what’s going on at the ground level of a complex city.
“Detroit is more than cars and bankruptcy,” she said.