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Swells in gowns and tuxes put on a grand show Friday night, sweeping into Cobo Center for the NAIAS Charity Preview's January swan song -- the last before next year's big switch to June. 

This year's preview, which charged $400 a head, brought in "over $4 million" for eight local children's charities, according to NAIAS Chairman Bill Golling's announcement from a stage crowded with dignitaries, and crowned by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

That $4 million, however, fell short of last year's $5.1 million. Indeed, it lagged behind every year since 2015, each of which topped $5 million.

It may be that Detroit's boil-water emergency early in the week — and news of Friday night protests deploring General Motors' plant cuts — discouraged some revelers. Or maybe it just seemed to some that the auto-industry good times have peaked, and they decided to save money.

Golling isn't so sure. 

"There's an ebb and flow to everything," he said. "Even so, we’re still going to have a great check for the charities."

Since 1976, the black-tie "car prom" has contributed more than $121 million to help kids across the metro area.

Benefiting nonprofits are the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Boys Hope Girls Hope Detroit, the Children's Center, Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation, Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund, Detroit PAL, Judson Center, and the March of Dimes Detroit. 

For her part, Whitmer applauded the money raised. Decked out in a forest green, full-length gown -- and scarcely able to move a foot without being asking for selfies, the governor called the preview “a great night” for Detroit.

“Four million dollars for Detroit-area children’s charities is a wonderful thing. But there are families who are hurting and they’re outside protesting," she added, in a nod to the Hart Plaza vigil opposing the GM cuts. "And I support them as well as the good works happening inside.” 

Whitmer was hardly the only celebrity getting stopped so people could take their picture with her. 

Grass Lake's own Emily Sioma — Miss Michigan — said she'd probably posed for "about 300" selfies at this, her first Charity Preview and auto show. “It’s been beautiful, very busy,” she said. 

Sioma waxed nostalgic recalling her first car, a 1999 Volkswagen Passat. "It was silver and fully loaded,” she said. “I got it for $1,000 from a neighbor. It was a manual, so I learned how to drive a stick shift, which is an awesome skill to have.” 

Rounding out the celebrity spectrum was 2014 Olympic ice-dancing gold medalist Meryl Davis, looking bright in apricot, in an over-the-shoulder gown with a slit.

The figure skater and Michigan native said she was honored to be at the Charity Preview, and a little embarrassed that, like Sioma, this was her first auto show. 

“I’m just excited to be home in Detroit and experience this event,” she said. Davis was there for WDIV, about to cover the U. S. Figure Skating Championships next week at Little Caesars Arena.

“Tonight," she said, "I’m working to get people excited about the championships.” 

Some celebrants worried about the upcoming preview date shift from January to June in 2020. 

"We talked about that last night," said Susan Fink of Commerce Township with her husband, Gregory Brooks. "We wonder if attendance might go down because people have other things to do in the summer."

She added, "Of course, it'll be a bonus for women in fancy dress and high heels."

Laurie Horvath and husband John Poronto of West Bloomfield called the date change "bittersweet," and wondered about the impact on charity fundraising. 

Also worried about fundraising was the Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP, concerned the move would be “a blessing and a burden” that could compete with the NAACP's Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner, held just one month before the rescheduled auto show. “We have big concerns about the change,” he said. 

Anthony lit right up, however, recalling his very first car, a Ford Gran Torino. “They used to call me ‘Starsky and Hutch,’” he said. “Man, it was baaaad. And I gunned it! I ran it! And I violated the law, and I apologize. But it was a cool car.” 

Returning to the subject of the date change, Golling himself acknowledged that this last frigid preview was tinged with nostalgia. But he doesn't think attendance, which this year was just over 10,000, will take a hit — rather, he thinks it might create opportunities. 

"You could have the black-tie indoors," he said, "and an informal event outside. With Hart Plaza, the music could be outdoors, too. Maybe rather than having 10,000," he added, warming to his theme, "we could get 20,000 to come." 

CLOSE

The Detroit Auto Show Charity Preview Party takes over the North American International Auto Show floor at Cobo Center. The Detroit News

In any case, he said, "It’ll be nice not to have to worry about coat check."

Speaking of coats, this year some guys mixed it up with flashy jackets, bow ties and splashes of color against basic black. Popular again with women were glitter and sequin dresses, including partly sequined frocks.

Turning heads in a turquoise, custom-made sequined suit was Felicia Turner of Shelby Township, who kept getting stopped so people could take her picture. She wore the glittery stunner with gold heels, matching purse and blue coloring in her hair. 

“It’s my birthday. I had it made by a seamstress, Tam Lynn," said Turner, who actually turns 36 Saturday. She added that she was thrilled to be at the preview with family and friends. 

Also looming large this year, echoing the 1990s, was rich, dark, colorful velvet, which seemed to pop everywhere. Fur, whether long coats or stoles, also appeared to be making a vigorous comeback. 

Dressed in maroon and red, sisters Erin and Heather Livingston — from Dayton, Ohio, and Ann Arbor respectively — said they always wanted to attend the Charity Preview, "and just decided we should since it's the last year it’s in the winter."

When they were done ogling flashy cars, they added, they were headed across Washington Boulevard to the elegant Apparatus Room in the new Foundation Hotel.

“We love it there” said Erin. 

Reporters Melody Baetens, Adam Graham and Sarah Rahal also contributed. 

(313) 222-6021

mhodges@detroitnews.com

 

 


 

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