DETROIT — Out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit's moves toward revitalization appear to be revving up as the eyes of the world turn to the city during the North American International Auto Show.
"It's really exciting in Detroit right now," Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday during a tour of the Cobo Center convention hall as workers constructed extravagant displays for the newest car and truck models.
More than 800,000 people attended the auto show last January, the most in more than a decade. This year's show kicks off with a press preview Monday and opens to the public Jan. 17. It ends Jan. 25.
Other than construction on a light-rail system downtown, visitors to Detroit may not notice some of the changes going on in the city, which spent just over a year in bankruptcy before emerging from it last month.
Detroit shed or restructured $7 billion in debt. Over time, about $1.4 billion will be used to improve city services, stamp out neighborhood blight and make other improvements.
More than 3,000 vacant houses in neighborhoods beyond downtown were demolished last year and city-owned homes are being auctioned off. A public lighting authority is installing thousands of street lights and city crews are removing tons of debris from illegal dumping sites.
"If you come into Detroit now and just spend time you can feel the resurgence," Duggan said. "You can feel the jobs coming back. We're filling up houses and fixing up houses in neighborhoods. There is a good feeling throughout the city."
That mood was absent even a few years ago. General Motors and Chrysler entered and exited bankruptcy in 2009, and the depth of the city's fiscal troubles was becoming more evident.
"The feeling of the city and the country is palpable at the auto show," Duggan said. "I was here in 2009 and you could feel people walking around depressed.
"Last year, it was feeling better and this year you can tell people are excited. The kind of car sales that we're seeing now we haven't seen in years, and Detroit's share of those car sales is terrific."
Bill Bohde, senior vice president for sales and marketing at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the growth of more hotels, attractions, dining — and a renovated Cobo Center — is primarily responsible for more major conventions coming to town last year than in the previous two decades.
There's no debating that Detroit "is on a tremendous upswing," said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive of the Detroit Regional Chamber, but everyone recognizes there's more work to be done.
"For downtown to be a world-class downtown, we still need a lot more new investment," he said. "The economic successes of the few in downtown need to start reaching those in the neighborhoods. We cannot forget that Detroit is not going to be a great city unless a vast majority of Detroiters are participating in that success."