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by Matt Alderton | February 04, 2013

The Cobo Conference & Exhibition Center in downtown Detroit offered a preview of its new "signature space" — a three-story glass atrium that links the main floor of the venue with a new entrance facing the Detroit River — during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 2013, it announced last week.

Although it's now closed again for final construction, the space was temporarily put into service during NAIAS, serving as the site of the show's opening ceremonies and several high-profile events, such as the North American Car & Truck of the Year Award announcements and an Uncle Kracker concert hosted by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.

"International press, visitors and local attendees were all energized by the glimpse of how the final Cobo Center renovations will add beauty and functionality to events in the center," says Cobo Center General Manager Thom Connors. "Everyone was upbeat and primed for the show with this first peek at just how much of an impact the Cobo transformation will have."

The new 80-foot glass atrium, opening permanently this summer, is part of a five-year, $299 million renovation that's currently underway at the Cobo Center. Begun in 2009 and scheduled for completion by 2015, the project includes three phases, the first two of which have already been completed.

Phase one included a set of urgently needed upgrades that focused on electrical improvements and leak reduction.

Phase two entailed the enclosure of the loading dock, further electrical and lighting improvements, the creation of more than 400 new parking spaces, a partial re-roofing of the building and the addition of 25,000 gross square feet of exhibition space.

The third and final phase will turn the existing Cobo Arena into a 40,000-square-foot ballroom with an open-air terrace, opening in May 2013; create the aforementioned atrium and entrance; renovate the building's primary façade, turning it into a high-tech "media mesh" that will function as a giant digital signboard; and reconfigure most of the building's meeting and breakout space along the facility's south side, where new meeting rooms will showcase views of the Detroit River.

"The 2013 NAIAS would not have [been successful] were it not for the ongoing improvements at Cobo Center," NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts said in a statement. "NAIAS is a world-class event which ranks high among the top five shows in the world, but it cannot sustain that status without the support of a world-class city, and a world-class facility, like Cobo Center. Part of the optimism and confidence we all felt during the show went beyond the exciting vehicle introductions and industry news, and extended to the new riverfront atrium, expanded show floor and infrastructure improvements at Cobo Center."