|By Heather Newman, Detroit Free
PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 28, 2007 - Detroit's second permanent luxury casino hotel opens this afternoon, and early tours Tuesday showed off the funky flair of the MotorCity Casino Hotel that contrasts nicely with competitor MGM Grand Detroit's smooth elegance.
The permanent casino complexes are part of the required payback for the money Detroit's three casinos take in (more than $1.1 billion in the first 10 months of this year). The hotels were required as part of the agreements that allowed the casinos to open in temporary facilities at first.
The MotorCity complex's directors have even grander dreams than just looking funky. Hotel Chief Executive Gregg Solomon sketched out the footprint of a second tower, a mirror to the first, that could be built if the hotel is a success. Owner Marian Ilitch spoke optimistically about adding a People Mover stop for the building, which would link it to the downtown -- and also to other Ilitch entertainment enterprises such as the Fox Theatre and the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
It's not a coincidence that two of the hotel's confirmed guests are the Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators hockey teams.
"We get the beat of Detroit," Marian Ilitch said. "We all work here, live here, and most of us are from here.
"I think the odds are good," Ilitch said of a People Mover expansion, suggesting it could link to Eastern Market as well. "If it was expanded, it would bring us all closer together." Her remarks are noteworthy because People Mover alteration has largely been dismissed over the years as an expensive pipe dream.
Detroit mayoral spokesman James Canning said Tuesday there are no official plans in the works to alter the People Mover route.
Small ceremony, big flash
The 400-room hotel opens in a tower attached to the existing casino at 3 p.m. In direct contrast to MGM Grand's glitzy opening gala almost two months ago, the event will be low-key: In a small ceremony, officials will speak and the first guests (a couple getting married at the casino) will check in.
Unlike the MGM, MotorCity has elected to unveil its permanent facility in stages. In June, the new high-rollers area and poker room opened to the public; today is the hotel's debut; at the end of the year, the new Iridescence restaurant and a lounge will open on the tower's top floor, and by the end of March, the rest of the renovated gaming areas, convention and banquet space and the concert area will be open.
The $300-million project included a complete face-lift for the existing gaming areas plus the additions to the old Wonder Bread factory site at Grand River and the Lodge.
The contrast between it and the MGM building is obvious, even from the outside. MGM's building is a smooth-edged, stainless-colored construct, easy on the eyes and elegant.
MotorCity's razzle-dazzles: It's wrapped in nearly 4,800 programmable LED light tubes that ring the building from the third to the 15th floors. The roof is bordered with a nearly impossible swoop of solid stainless steel intended to look like the drip rail from a Chevy Bel Air, created by automotive design legend Chip Foose.
"We've always been the party place," said Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Cohen. "We're not trying to import people to somewhere else."
Said Solomon, the hotel's chief executive: "We're going to be the entertainment destination. We're going to have a theater that will blow people's socks off. If Prince is playing at Ford Field, I want him staying at my hotel. We have a recording studio in the theater.
"We have not been subdued with anything that we've done. That style of delivery is Detroit, proper. It wasn't designed 2,000 miles away."
Finding a niche
Solomon wasn't above taking potshots at his competitor. But he said the market has grown since MGM opened its permanent facility, proving that the two don't necessarily share the same clientele.
"Our best customer is a different person than their best customer," he said.
Where MGM impresses with ultrafine finishes and materials, smooth backgrounds and soft color schemes, MotorCity brings on the funk: Every light fixture is an art piece, every carpet a mesmerizing combination of flames or geometric patterns, every super-fuzzy throw pillow an invitation to bury your fingers in new touches and textures.
Prices start at $299 for a basic room and go up to $5,500 for the Presidential Suite, which overlooks the Ambassador Bridge and includes amenities like dual walk-in closets and a private exercise room.
High-tech touches include wireless phones that you can carry with you anywhere in the hotel to receive your in-room calls and a menu of options on the television that includes checking on your departing flights and even printing your boarding passes.
See www.motorcitycasino.com or call 866-782-9622 for reservation information.
Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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