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Thanksgiving Parade continues to expand, amaze

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

When the 88th America's Thanksgiving Parade sets out on Woodward this year, it'll be celebrating Detroit in several brand-new ways.

The parade is set to debut two new floats prominently featuring Detroit landmarks, and it's calling the public's attention to the progress on the M-1 rail project. Rail construction will reduce public seating by about 20 percent, but the parade will still follow its usual route from the Detroit Institute of Arts to just south of Campus Martius.

"We have the second-largest parade in America, it's shown in 150 different cities across America, and on this road that is going through an evolution in an amazing way," says Tony Michaels, president and CEO of the Parade Company, which organizes the event. "The improvement in Detroit is all real."

The first of this year's newly introduced floats replicates and celebrates one of Detroit's major musical landmarks: the Motown Historical Museum. The float will feature a rolling reproduction of the iconic "Hitsville U.S.A." building, as well as spinning records and a giant piano big enough to fit 15 regular Baby Grand pianos inside. Art Van Elslander, chairman of parade sponsor Art Van Furniture, says the inspiration for the float came about in a meeting with Robin Terry, chairman of the museum's board.

"We learned the museum didn't have a float and didn't have the resources to sponsor one," Van Elslander says. "Since Motown is synonymous with Detroit, I asked Ms. Terry if she wanted one. When she said, 'Yes,' I said, 'Done.' "

Another prominent new representation of the city is the "Connecting the Spirit of Detroit to the World" float, the first float to be sponsored by the Lear Corp. The float features a 12-foot replica of the Spirit of Detroit statue surrounded by flags and symbols of 35 different nations. At 45 feet long and 16 feet tall, it is one of the largest floats ever featured in the parade.

"We rolled that out about a week ago, right in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue," Michaels says. "That's going to be rolling down Woodward and it is electric, just electric."

Another notable float this year comes from the mind of an eighth-grade Detroit Public Schools student. The Skillman Foundation's 23rd annual Float Design Contest will bring to life a float designed by Earhart Elementary Middle student Naomi West. The float, titled "Children's Pet Cuddle and Care Club," features a giant dog in front of a bowl big enough to hold 20 gallons of water. A selection of the many other contest entries will be displayed on a wrap running around the float.

"It's all about taking great care of pets, like dogs and cats," Michaels says. "It's a cuddly place where they make sure the dogs and cats are cuddled; done the right way."

The parade also will feature a slew of local celebrities. Olympic ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis, Ann Arbor and West Bloomfield natives respectively, will lead the parade as its grand marshals. Detroit rapper Big Sean and Lake Orion native and "Rehab Addict" host Nicole Curtis will appear. Van Elslander describes Thanksgiving as his "favorite day of the year" in Detroit.

"We are one community and, for the past 24 years, I've never been disappointed," Van Elslander says. "I see the smiles and joyous spirit on children of every age, color and creed. It really warms my heart."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

88th Annual America's Thanksgiving Parade

8:50 a.m. Thursday

Step off at Woodward and Kirby;

route ends at Woodward

and Congress