Renaming Cobo Center could take two years

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan and other proponents of changing Cobo Center’s name sooner than later, may have a bit of a wait.

“It could take up to two years,” Larry Alexander, chairman of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, told The Detroit News following the organization’s Friday meeting. “We allotted that much time to ensure a thorough and complete vetting process.”

Alexander said the authority, which oversees the convention center, hired a firm last month to search for clients to purchase the right to name the center. It is similar to Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans chairman and founder Dan Gilbert purchasing naming rights to the QLine.

The convention center, built by Detroit and opened in 1960, was named after former mayor Albert E. Cobo.

Cobo was a controversial figure who led the “Detroit Plan,” which displaced thousands of African-Americans by leveling the Black Bottom neighborhood to make way for Interstate 75.

While cities across the country debate controversial statues remaining or being removed from public places, Duggan questions whether the center should continue to bear the name of the ’50s-era Detroit mayor who campaigned against the “Negro invasion” of white neighborhoods, among other things.

Duggan discussed the prospect of renaming the center with Alexander last month. At the same time, the convention authority independently had been exploring the option of marketing the naming rights.

The convention authority contracted with Birmingham-based Fulkerson Group and Connect Partnership Group of Austin, Texas, to handle naming rights and sponsorship for Cobo Center, according to spokeswoman Heather George.

The two firms have formed a joint company, FulkersonConnect LLC, to work on the project together.

Officials have said naming rights could generate between $1 million to $6 million annually for the center.

The Fulkerson Group markets and sells sponsorships for major events in Detroit, including the North American International Auto Show. Connect Partnership Group is experienced in selling naming rights to sports stadiums and amphitheaters.

“It was a very extensive process,” said Alexander, explaining how the company was selected. “There were eight bidders from whom we had to select.”

On Thursday, Duggan said the convention center already had individuals approaching them about naming rights and he’s encouraging them to “make it a short process, as opposed to a long process.”

Asked Friday about inquires the authority had received so far, George said “we are unable to disclose that information.”

“I’m just not somebody who thinks you need to reexamine every street name and every building name,” Duggan told The News. “I just think that our convention center is an international symbol and so I felt like something should be done. I completely support what the convention authority is doing right now in the naming process and I hope they get it done in relatively short order.”

The timing, Duggan added, aligns with not only national tensions over whose legacies should be enshrined in public places, but also the Cobo authority’s need for revenues and his belief that “we needed to make a statement about what this city stands for.”

Duggan, a Democrat, has been forthcoming about his feelings regarding Cobo, a Republican. He also criticized Cobo during his speech at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May.

“We elected a mayor ... who chose a campaign of racial divisiveness,” he said during the keynote speech. “He ran the kind of ‘us versus them’ that has done so much damage to Detroit.”

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Christine Ferretti contributed