National Football League players said it all season: We want to go to Detroit.
While the Motor City is destination No. 1 for professional linebackers and quarterbacks, it is probably not among the top tourism destinations for most North Americans. But city officials and members of the Super Bowl host committee want out-of-towners to know that a new and improving Detroit awaits them.
The 40th edition of the Super Bowl hits Detroit's Ford Field on Feb. 5, and along with it will come tens of thousands of people, from players and fans to the media and celebrities. What will they find? Everything from a winter carnival and casinos to world-renowned works of art and local history, including a tour of a Ford factory and a museum devoted to Motown music.
Those who still think of Detroit as a blighted, dangerous industrial city in decline will be especially surprised by the new look of the city's downtown. Abandoned buildings are being converted into loft apartments and office space along Woodward Avenue, Detroit's main thoroughfare.
The skyscrapers of the Renaissance Center -- the most recognizable feature of the city skyline -- have been overhauled along the redeveloped waterfront of the Detroit River. The largest tower has been decorated with a 24,000-square-foot vinyl wrap celebrating the Super Bowl. The WinterGarden, a five-storey glass atrium with sweeping views of the river on the south side of the RenCen, opened in 2001 and has several restaurants and Detroit-themed stores. It will also house the Super Bowl's media centre.
Software developer Compuware has moved downtown from the suburbs into a 15-storey complex with a Hard Rock Cafe, Borders bookstore and a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop.
On the south side of the Compuware building sits Campus Martius Park, which opened in late 2004. In summer, a park fountain shoots jets of water more than 40 metres into the air, while a skating rink is the main winter attraction. During Super Bowl week, a winter carnival called Motown Winter Blast will be held there, with a 70-metre-long snow slide, sled dogs and ice skating. Heated tents will showcase musical entertainment and some of the city's best cuisine.
The park "has been an economic catalyst for the development of downtown Detroit," said Edsel Ford II, chairman of the Detroit 300 Conservancy Board, a group involved in revitalizing the city's downtown.
The NFL Experience, an annual interactive football theme park run by the league, will set up shop at nearby Cobo Center.
A different kind of game can be found at the four area casinos -- three in Detroit and one in Windsor, Ont. In all, the MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity and Greektown casinos and Casino Windsor offer gamblers more than 10,000 slot machines and hundreds of tables.
Nighttime recreational opportunities will abound during Super Bowl week at nightclubs throughout the region, especially downtown and in the suburban communities of Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham. A-listers from the worlds of entertainment and athletics also will gather at a multitude of parties -- many of them invitation-only.
The Detroit area is also home to many cultural attractions. The Detroit Institute of Arts is home to four works by Vincent van Gogh and Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals. The DIA also is the only U.S. stop for an exhibition (running through Super Bowl Sunday) showcasing the story of French sculptors Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin through their sculptures, drawings, photographs and love letters.
There are also museums devoted to Detroit's best-known creations -- cars and music.
The Motown Historical Museum chronicles the music company that transformed artists from Detroit's housing projects into superstars.
The Henry Ford complex in nearby Dearborn is comprised of the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. At the museum, visitors can see the restored bus on which civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala. Greenfield Village includes an 1820 Georgia slave cabin, Thomas Edison's research laboratory and the Detroit workshop where Ford built his first car in 1896. The Ford Rouge Factory Tour lets you see F-150 pickup trucks being built.
Detroit backers are hoping that Super Bowl visitors will focus on the new Detroit and not the old -- which, for many Americans, was symbolized in past decades by the city's outbreaks of arson each Halloween. The "Devil's Night" rampages no longer take place, and other urban ills are also being remedied as the city works to clean up the downtown, repaving roads, tearing down vacant buildings, removing graffiti and giving business owners grants to improve building façades.
Pack your bags
WHERE TO STAY
Reservations for Super Bowl visitors: 1-866-783-7240; http://www.sbxl.org.
Greektown: 555 E. Lafayette Ave.; http://www.greektowncasino.com.
Motorcity: 2901 Grand River Ave.; http://www.motorcitycasino.com.
MGM Grand Detroit: 1300 John C. Lodge Fwy.; detroit.mgmgrand.com.
Casino Windsor: 377 Riverside Dr. E., Windsor; casinowindsor.com.
Campus Martius: 800 Woodward Ave. between Fort Street and Michigan Ave.; motownwinterblast.com. Skating rink and cafe. Motown Winter Blast festival Super Bowl week.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: 315 E. Warren Ave.; http://www.maah-detroit.org.
Detroit Institute of Arts: 5200 Woodward Ave.; http://www.dia.org.
Detroit Zoo: Woodward Avenue and Ten Mile Road, Royal Oak; 248-398-0900; http://www.detroitzoo.org.
Eastern Market: Between Russell and Riopelle near Interstate 75; http://www.easternmarket.org.
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House: 100 Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Shores; 313-884-4222; fordhouse.org.
Heidelberg Project: Heidelberg Street between Mount Elliot and Gratiot; http://www.heidelberg.org.
Henry Ford Estate (Fair Lane): 4901 Evergreen Rd., Dearborn; 313-593-5590; http://www.henryfordestate.org.
The Henry Ford complex: Village Road and Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn; http://www.hfmgv.org.
Motown Historical Museum: 2648 W. Grand Blvd.; http://www.motownmuseum.com.
Renaissance Center: Between East Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River in downtown Detroit.
Walter P. Chrysler Museum: 1 Chrysler Dr., Auburn Hills; 1-888-456-1924; http://www.chryslerheritage.com.
NFL Experience (games and attractions) at Cobo Center: www.superbowl.com/features/nfl-experience.
NFL Fan Zone: (interactive theme park, games, clinics and NFL player appearances) at Cleary International Centre, Feb. 2-4.
Tailgate parties: Dieppe Gardens, the municipal garden on the Detroit River, Feb. 3-5.
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.visitdetroit.com.