Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick surprised regional leaders last week when he released architectural drawings of an expanded Cobo Center, the home of the North American International Auto Show and the subject of debate over a long-stalled expansion.

By releasing the drawings — which show a 166,700 square-foot expansion of the 700,000 square-foot facility costing $288 million — Kilpatrick said he was attempting to break the deadlock over how to move forward with the project. Auto show officials have repeatedly warned that Detroit could lose the lucrative event if the center is not expanded.

But Kilpatrick’s move came as a surprise to key players negotiating the project, including Wayne County Executive Wayne Ficano, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and even aides to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Ficano and Patterson downplayed the move, saying the architectural plans have been agreed to for months, and that the project’s real sticking points are financing and control of a proposed authority that would run the center.

Under an alternative plan proposed by Ficano that has generated the most support, the center would be expanded 120,000 square feet and cost nearly $600 million. Under Ficano’s proposal, the expansion would be financed through hotel and liquor taxes and about $50 million in state funding. Under the plan, Michigan would create an authority to run the center, and negotiations now center on who would control appointments to the new agency, according to reports. 

The auto show is estimated to bring in $500 million in annual revenues.

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