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Detroit seeing uptick in conventions, visitors

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2014 at 7:47 pm •  Published: January 29, 2014

DETROIT (AP) — A conference of Jehovah's Witnesses later this year is expected to draw 90,000 people to Detroit.

The conference will stretch over two weekends at Ford Field and is an example of how Detroit is becoming more of a destination for conventions, despite the city's recent dive into bankruptcy, according to Larry Alexander, president and chief executive of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Alexander reported Wednesday during an annual meeting that major convention bookings are up this year and 2015.

The bureau hosted five major conventions in 2013 and has 12 booked this year. So far, 11 major conventions are booked in 2015.

About 236,000 room nights — the total number of nights individual rooms are used — have been booked at area hotels for 2014, compared to 129,000 all of last year.

The Convention & Visitors Bureau staff sells and markets Detroit and the region "during the prosperous times and in times where an impending bankruptcy makes our clients hesitant to book their meetings" in Detroit, Alexander said. "Despite those challenges, our bookings have never been better. It's amazing what can be done when we have a quality product to sell."

Detroit's finances are controlled by state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr. Orr has said the city's debt is at least $18 billion and filed for bankruptcy in July. A federal judge allowed Detroit into Chapter 9 in December, making it the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.

While many of the city's neighborhoods struggle with blight and crime, Detroit's downtown and Midtown areas continue to grow.

A $279 million renovation and expansion project at the Cobo convention center, along with new private sector investment downtown and an aggressive marketing campaign by the Convention & Visitors Bureau touting Detroit as "America's great comeback city" are among the reasons for the surge in conventions, Alexander added.

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