February 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Dreams afloat at Detroit Boat Show

Detroit—After weeks of snow and frigid temperatures, nearly 20,000 people rushed to the Detroit Boat Show, which opened at Cobo Center over the weekend. This year’s show, which runs through Sunday, is double the size of the 2012 one and has nearly 1,000 boats on display — from $600 paddle boats to six-figure luxury cabin cruisers.

“It’s a great way to spend a cold winter day,” said Rob Oz of Berkley, who braved icy freeways and snow Sunday to compare dozens of boat models and dream of warmer days.

“I’m in the market (for a boat),” he said. “I just don’t know what I’m going to get. But by spring I’m going to be ready.”

The show lured Joe Russo of Clinton Township, who was found coveting the features of a $550,000 cabin cruiser as his daughters, Grace, 11, and Isabella, 15, roamed the stylish craft’s galley, cozy sleeping quarters and two bathrooms.

“We come here every year,” said Russo, who keeps a 26-foot cabin cruiser on Lake St. Clair. “I like to check out the boats and get some ideas. I want to upgrade to something bigger but I’m not quite ready for this one.”

Russo, a window blind installer, said if they weren’t at Cobo, he and his girls would probably have spent Sunday knocking a ball around at an indoor tennis court.

Show organizers were upbeat because of the early interest at the nine-day show, considered one of the top shows in the nation based on sales, attendance and size.

With nearly 1 million registered boats, boating has a $7.4 billion economic impact on Michigan. Michigan has the third-highest marine market in the nation, surpassed only by Florida and California, according to Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, which is hosting the show.

Michigan recorded $650 million spent on new boat, motor, trailer and accessory purchases in 2012, a 43 percent increase for Michigan when the rest of the country averaged a 10 percent increase.

Twenty-eight percent of the state’s boats — 209,360 watercraft — are registered in Wayne (66,803), Oakland (89,604) and Macomb (52,953) counties, she said.

“We are expecting some big (attendance) numbers,” said Polan. “We anticipate more than 60,000 people will have visited the show by next week.”

Polan said sales could be boosted by a new sales tax incentive approved in Michigan, in which buyers are not required to pay tax on the difference between the trade-in value of their old boats and the new boat price. The law took effect in November.

Many of the show’s 28 dealers, like Gary Krupa of Krupa Boat Mart in Jackson, attribute 50 percent of their annual sales to purchases and leads made at the show.

Krupa’s family-owned business has displayed boats at the Detroit show since 1978. Krupa has 22 models of pontoon boats on view at Cobo this year.

“We’ve sold over 3,000 boats over the years thanks to this show,” said Krupa, who said several sales had already been made this weekend.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic and with the sales tax incentive, we believe we’re going to have a good year. The sales tax law has been a huge boost for us.”

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Mitch Harris, left, of Brighton, chats with Silver Spray Sports owner Jeff Smith over a G21 Nautique at Cobo Center. / Photos by Brandy Baker / The Detroit News
Ashly Ritter, 6, of Shelby Township chats with mermaid Hannah Hunter among ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)