by Bryan Darrow | March 01, 2007

Albuquerque at nightNow glowing: Albuquerque,
N.M., is two-thirds into a
10-year makeover.

Whether catching up or casting ahead, cities of all sizes across the country are undergoing an urban renaissance, pouring billions of dollars into massive downtown projects that promise to make them more appealing, right from the core. According to Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, “If you look at a map and throw a dart, you’re likely to hit a place that’s revitalizing downtown.” Below are several bull’s-eyes.

Albuquerque, N.M.

Downtown Albuquerque has received $450 million in public and private investments through year seven of a 10-year revitalization program. But even after the program comes to its conclusion, there still will be work to do, according to Luisa Casso, former president of Albuquerque’s Downtown Action Team, a private nonprofit organization in charge of the project. “Revitalization cannot happen overnight -- it takes decades,” says Casso.

As the city develops, the DAT also recognizes the importance of maintaining the authentic Southwestern culture and charm of Albuquerque. “As we grow, we want to make sure that we don’t become an Anywhere, USA -- that the eclectic architecture and the local boutiques remain at the core of our city,” explains Casso. Much of Albuquerque’s historic core is centered in its vibrant arts community. The city’s Central Arts District, anchored by the newly refurbished “pueblo deco”-style, 650-seat KiMo Theatre, has evolved into a mecca for artists, studios, galleries and art organizations. Also an entertainment hub, the district offers a rich new blend of shopping, dining and nightlife destinations.

As for downtown properties, the 295-room Doubletree Hotel, which is connected to the Albuquerque Convention Center, will finish $7 million in renovations this spring, including the addition of 1,500 square feet of meeting space, for a total of 8,000 square feet.

Perhaps the largest addition to the downtown area will be a new multipurpose arena that will seat anywhere from 10,000 to 19,000 people and likely include a hotel and retail space. Currently, city officials are discussing three alternative proposals from developers, and no opening date has been set.


Known as much for crime and dilapidation as for its storied automotive history, Detroit is in the midst of an ambitious attempt to spruce up its image. To chaperone its transformation, the city turned to sports. Over the last few years, Detroit has hosted a bevy of major athletic events, including the Ryder Cup, the MLB All-Star Game and Super Bowl XL.

Meanwhile, Motor City is spending billions on its downtown, with more than 1,650 hotel rooms currently under construction. Of note:

* The historic Book-Cadillac Hotel, which closed in the mid-’80s, is being converted into a 455-room Westin and is expected to open in summer 2008, following a $180 million renovation. The property’s fabled Grand and Italian Garden ballrooms will be restored, and a new 11,000-square-foot ballroom will be added, giving the hotel a total of 39,000 square feet of event space.

* The Hotel Pontchartrain, now undergoing a $14 million upgrade that includes all 367 guest rooms and a new walkway to the Cobo Center, is converting into a Sheraton this May and will feature 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Three newly expanded casinos are coming, with the MGM Grand expecting to open its new facilities this year and the Motor City Casino and Greektown Casino to debut in 2008. All three will include 400-room hotels with 100,000 square feet of gaming space. As for meeting space, the Greektown Casino will have approximately 25,000 square feet, the MGM Grand 30,000 square feet and Motor City 67,000 square feet.

One of the biggest downtown developments is the $500 million Detroit International Riverfront project, which already is well underway. This year, a network of paths is scheduled for construction along the river. In addition to Tri-Centennial Park, which opened in 2004, two new urban parks are expected, which will complete a three-mile network of greenery that stretches from the MacArther Bridge to Joe Louis Arena. A new harbor for cruise ships and pleasure boats also is in the works.

Detroit’s downtown initiative, first and foremost, is an attempt to make the city competitive for the 21st century. Christopher Baum, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, believes the city has many distinct advantages over its Midwest competitors. It is affordable, centrally located, has outstanding air access and, with three new and improved casinos on the way, has growing appeal as a gaming destination.