Must See Detroit – the Familiar and the Unique

The New York Times put Detroit on its list of 53 “must see” destinations for 2008. What grabbed the travel writers’ attention was a $158 million renovation of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the opening of two new luxury hotels at the MGM Grand Casino and the Motor City Casino, and the anticipated reopening of the restored Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel.

In that selection of attractions, The New York Times touched on one of the great features of the transformation that is happening here – it has elements of both familiar and trusted “brands” as well as things truly unique to Detroit. MGM is a world-class name in entertainment and that casino reflects it with elegant design themes you might expect in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. The Motor City Casino, on the other hand, is infused with bold gestures that pay homage to the automotive industry. The new Book-Cadillac will have all the modern touches of a Westin hotel, but its painstaking restorations of grand public spaces will also take you back to the particular role Detroit played in the industrialization of America.

At the new DIA, you can inspect a piece by Picasso that, if it weren’t here, you might see in a museum in New York or Paris, then look at the singularly Detroit murals of Diego Rivera depicting Ford Motor Company factories.

You find that same blending of familiar and unique throughout Detroit.  In one corner of the Compuware Building you can eat at a Hard Rock Café, in another you’ll find a restaurant named after our most famous street – Woodward. It serves items with touches of local favorites such as Sander’s Ice Cream and Vernor’s Ginger Ale. In the landmark Guardian building that is home to the DEGC there is a coffee shop named after the architect, Wirt Rowland. But you can also walk across the street to a Starbucks.

Don’t think, however, that everything unique to Detroit is old. During the times when national retailers weren’t recognizing the buying power here, Detroiters were creating their own, independent stores and styles. When you follow the Times recommendation and come for a visit, don’t leave without a Pangborn tie or a T-shirt that is Pure Detroit. 

George W. Jackson
Jackson is president and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a non-profit organization that works with businesses, government and other organizations throughout Detroit to encourage and manage economic development projects
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