Hip to be Square

Cobo Center unveils new outdoor space

Downtown Detroit’s Cobo Center has wrapped up a five-year, $279 million expansion that includes not only changes to its interior, but also a major overhaul to its exterior.

Called Cobo Square, the final development sees the footprint formerly occupied by its arena transformed into 45,000 square feet of outdoor event space overlooking the river, which extends around to the building’s front on Jefferson Avenue.

Following the addition of a new glass-covered atrium in 2013, the new design is meant to help connect and integrate Cobo Center into the downtown environment.

“It gives people a better feeling about where they are when they’re inside, but also shows them where they can go in close proximity to get outside and experience more of the city,” says Thom Connors, regional vice president of Cobo management company SMG and general manager of Cobo Center. “It’s a connectivity with the environment that this new design has made possible.”

So far, the terrace has been used by private groups, but this season it’s set to get wider use. In April, the space was slated to have its first public use as part of Shell Eco-marathon America, a racing competition of energy-efficient vehicles. This month the space will serve as the box office for Movement Electronic Music Festival in nearby Hart Plaza.

Connors says the space could be used to host public events such as yoga classes, biergartens, and farmers markets. “We envision this primarily being used by groups using the convention center,” he says, adding that Cobo is in talks with various organizations to develop more community-oriented programs.

Renovations to Cobo Center began in September 2010, after the operations were transferred from the city of Detroit to a regional authority. Cobo Center first opened in 1960 and was last renovated in the 1980s.