Detroit Wheels Out Its Latest Model

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DETROIT, Jan. 30 -- This city has an image problem. The good people of Detroit know it and we know it, and they hope that by the end of this week others will think of this area for more than urban blight and Devil's Night fires, Eminem, Motown and the Big Three, and a downtown that turns into a ghost town when the sun sets. To that end, dignitaries and politicians turned on the charm this afternoon, hoping that Super Bowl XL will be a springboard into the city's further revitalization.

The red carpet has been rolled out for the media, and once fans begin arriving in a few days, they will be awash in hospitality, too, by the more than 10,000 volunteers. Sure, at least some of those civic-minded people admit they are motivated by the snazzy jackets and schwag being dangled before all volunteers, but the coordinated effort to display the bright side of Detroit is unmistakable. For years the city has been a punch line, and let's face it, that probably won't change overnight, but you can't blame these guys for dreaming.

"We think this is going to be a blockbuster event for those outside of Michigan who might look down their noses at this city or this state ," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said during a news conference. "This is our moment to welcome the world, and we invite David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel or anybody to come and experience winter and sports and cars and music."

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who looks as if he could play center Sunday if need be, repeatedly referred to the New Detroit (didn't these guys learn from the New Coke fiasco?), and boasted of the influx of business and people to this area since Detroit was awarded this Super Bowl nearly four years ago. He raved about the 35 new restaurants -- "As you can see, I've sampled them all," he joked -- and believes Detroit will "redeem" itself from a forgettable 1982 Super Bowl in Pontiac.

"We want to reintroduce ourselves to the world as the next Detroit," Kilpatrick said.

The volunteers know this tune all too well. When one was asked about the long-suffering city of Flint, she demurred politely -- "We're only supposed to say good things about Detroit." We have protected her identity so as not to jeopardize her free jacket.

Overlook Hotel II

If people are wearing bewildered expressions, this must be the Renaissance Center, left, a monstrous building that is housing the media center and many events. It is a maze consisting of conjoined circles and innumerable rooms and stores that can leave one feeling like they are stuck in the final scenes of "The Shining," sans Jack Nicholson (as Mr. Kilpatrick would want us to point out).

Even a local, a photographer for the Detroit Free Press, was wandering the halls Monday looking for a ballroom. When confronted about his local ties, he retorted: "Hey, man, I avoid this place religiously." Fair enough.

Gearing Up

There is not much Super Bowl buzz in the city yet, with most visitors expected to arrive Wednesday or later, when the parties and festivities really kick in. Still, the city is filling up. "I don't know if it's going to get crazy later in the week," Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior said, "but it was definitely quiet today." . . . The first bizarre questions from the international contingent began Monday, with a reporter from Mexico asking Steelers guard Alan Faneca for a message to the Mexican people. A reporter from Brazil asked the same question about his homeland and then asked whether Faneca has ever played beach soccer. He hasn't. . . . Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, winner of three of the last four Super Bowls, will be an analyst during ABC's pregame show Sunday, something he calls "an interesting opportunity to gain a different perspective on the Super Bowl." We see it as an interesting opportunity to bring the gray hoodie to studio shows.

-- Jason La Canfora

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