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117 Years of Service for Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau

Posted on Wednesday, February 20 2013 in Uncategorized


February 1896, young Journalist Milton J. Carmichael watches from the newsroom of the Detroit Evening Journal on Larned at Shelby as convention attendees arrive on trains at the Detroit’s Union Depot and the Michigan Central Station – both on Fort St.

What next happened is documented by hospitality industry experts such as Business Management professor Robert Ford of Central Florida University who wrote:


“The beginnings of this [convention] industry are traced by most writers to a Detroit Journal newspaper writer, Milton J. Carmichael, who wrote a newspaper article in February of 1896: “During the past few years Detroit has built up a name as a convention city, delegates coming from hundreds of miles, manufacturers holding their yearly consultations around our hotels, and all without any effort on the part of the citizens, or any special attention paid to them after they got here. They have simply come to Detroit because they wanted to….Can Detroit by making an effort, this year secure the holding of 200 or 300 of these national conventions during the year of ’97. It will mean the bringing here of thousands and thousands of men from every city in the union…and they will expend millions of dollars with the merchants and the people of the City of the Straits” (Carmichael, 1896, p.1). 

[Carmichael’s] logic was based on what he had already observed as Detroit had established itself as a prime location for meetings and conventions. In that article, he not only pointed out the obvious value of this business to Detroit but argued that local businesses should band together to organize a formal and organized promotion of Detroit as a desirable convention destination to get more of this business. It was an effective argument. Less than two weeks later on February 19, 1896, members of the Chamber of Commerce joined with the Manufacturers Club to form a new organization, The Detroit Convention and Businessmen’s League, with a mission of “hustling for all these conventions.” Carmichael was elected its first secretary and traveled over 17,000 miles in his first year on the job. He was so successful in his promotion of Detroit that the organization he headed had gathered a list of over 300 convention prospects by the end of that year." (Metropolitan Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1996)



FEBRAUARY 19, 1896 Milton J. Carmichael founds the Detroit Convention and Businessmen’s League.

1907 Organization renamed Detroit Convention and Tourism Bureau.

1913 Its Bulletin boasted that in the previous six years, 3,500 conventions had been invited and 800 came to the city.

1920s Detroit was booming and growing late in the decade. A new bridge and tunnel to Canada made the city a gateway for international travel. President Herbert Hoover joined Thomas Edison and Henry Ford at the opening of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.    

1927 Bureau took the lead in forming an organization that became the Southeastern Michigan Tourist and Publicity Association.  For the next six decades, the Bureau did not promote leisure visits but concentrated on conventions.

1950s J. Lee Barrett, the embodiment of the Bureau for nearly four decades, retired in 1952. Sale staff is tripled. Focus was on scheduling gatherings for a new convention hall planned for opening in 1960.

October 13, 1960 Cobo Hall was dedicated in ceremonies featuring a flag-raising, rousing music and comments by 12 notables who included Benson Ford, Mayor Miriani and Governor G. Mennen Williams.

1970s A new approach to selling conventions used “blitz” sales visits to Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. where 90 percent of the nation’s associations were concentrated.

1977 The opening of the Renaissance Center and a 1,400 room Westin Hotel.

1980 Detroit hosts the GOP convention in the summer of 1980. The visitors added $44 million to the area’s economy.

1982 Super Bowl XVI takes place in Pontiac.  82,000 fans that spent nearly $62 million during the week of festivities.

1990 The Society of Automotive Engineers continue to draw record numbers – some 40,000 each year – and Society of Manufacturing Engineers maintained their longstanding practice of meeting in Detroit with some 10,000 in attendance. 

1999 Larry Alexander named new president of the Detroit Metro CVB.

2000 Detroit bids on and is awarded Super Bowl XL.

2000-2012 Several milestones bringing positive momentum to the region and DMCVB staff:  

  • New stadiums (Comerica Park, home of the MLB's Detroit Tigers and Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions)
  • Upgraded airport (Metro Airport)
  • DMCVB introduces new D-brand (2007)  
  • New hotels doubling the downtown hotel package  
  • Several marquee events around the region, including Ryder Cup, Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series twice, PGA Championship  
  • Investors like Dan Gilbert changing the landscape with thousands of new employees, purchasing and renovating more than a dozen skycrapers.  
  • Cobo renovation 
  • At end of 2012, our sales team had booked business worth more than $200 million.



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