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NAIAS Charity Preview celebrates 40 years

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

They’re scrubbing the limos, the sparkling wine’s on ice, and 5,000 slippers for feet stressed by high heels are on their way to Cobo Center.

It’s all in preparation for Detroit’s world-class wingding, the North American International Auto Show’s 40th annual Charity Preview, that will completely occupy downtown Friday evening.

New this year will be costumed characters from The Parade Company mingling with the gowns and tuxes, free beer from the Detroit Beer Co., and the first-ever Indy Cafe, a bar right in the middle of the show floor where you can get serious with a martini or Manhattan.

Entertainment for all will be provided by Huey Lewis and the News, while Detroit’s own Fifty Amp Fuse will rock the Studio 25 after party.

Add all that to record sales for the auto companies and downtown Detroit’s ballooning appeal, and you’re talking a Charity Preview that should easily top last year’s in attendance and contributions, according to NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts.

“We’re probably going to have 14,000 to 15,000 people,” Alberts said. “We were very close to that last year with 13,350, but I think we’ll eclipse it this year.”

At noon Monday, 11,416 tickets had been sold — about where they were at this time last year, said NAIAS spokesman Max Muncey.

The 2015 Preview raised $5.3 million for eight designated children’s charities. Tickets, like last year, are $400 per head — all but $10 of which is tax-deductible.

Since 1976, Charity Preview has raised more than $100 million, with over $45 of that in the last 10 years alone.

Should 2016 attendance hit the 15,0000 mark, the preview will rake in $6 million for kids.

All this, of course, is still speculation. But Alberts said he thinks Detroit’s newfound fizziness, to say nothing of dozens of new restaurants, will spell big numbers for the show generally.

“People are more willing than ever to come downtown these days,” he said. “Every restaurant and hotel will be filled up.”

Those who attend the preview will discover a fresh look. Seventy percent of the auto displays will be brand new, and NAIAS has rearranged where the various companies are located.

There’s even an “official” color this year, courtesy of sponsor Axalta Coating Systems in Clinton Township — “brilliant blue.” That’s the color of ribbon that they’ll cut to launch the preview, as well as the mints on offer as you walk onto the show floor, and a new cocktail you can order at the Indy Cafe called the “Blue Frost.”

But back to those chilling bottles of sparkling wine, which will number about 1,200. Just how does Alberts handle the perennial grousing that Charity Preview serves so-so bubbly?

“You know, that’s one of our signature pieces,” Alberts said with a laugh. “It’s like the weather. You know it’s going to snow that night — and you’ll get some bad Champagne.”

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NAIAS Charity Preview

6-9 p.m. Friday

Cobo Center, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit

$400 admission ($390 tax-deductible)

$150 ticket to Studio 25 afterparty, 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. (Must have Charity Preview ticket)

(888) 838-7500

naias.com/charity

Benefiting charities:

Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Boys Hope Girls Hope of Detroit, Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund, Detroit Police Athletic League, Judson Center, March of Dimes Metro Detroit, The Children’s Center

Charity Preview by the numbers:

1,200

bottles of sparkling wine

3,600

bottles of wine

5,000

pairs of slippers for feet exhausted by high heels

8,376,550

pounds — total weight of last year’s 13,350 revelers

30 feet by 100 feet

size of the two Studio 25 after-party video screens

$200 million

total value of auto show displays

750

number of vehicles on the Cobo floor

$5.3 million

raised in 2015, which organizers hope to beat this year