DETROIT -- Cobo Center, the downtown convention hall that's home to the annual Detroit auto show, could soon change its name -- a move that would cut its association with the racist ex-mayor that it has honored for more than half a century.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is up for re-election in November, has urged the authority that runs the building to strip the name of Albert Cobo, a 1950s-era mayor whose legacy is marked by racially charged housing policies and the demolition of African American neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal. Duggan's call also comes at a time of renewed national dialogue over the commemoration of Confederate generals and other past American leaders who carried out racist and discriminatory policies for a century after the Civil War.
Duggan's plea to drop the name as soon as possible comes as the city's convention authority was preparing to market naming rights for the center to help close an expected budget gap -- a process that had been expected to take up to two years.
Cobo won the mayor's office in 1949 on a campaign of battling a "Negro invasion" of white neighborhoods and carried out former Mayor Edward Jeffries' plans of demolishing the predominantly African American neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley for so-called urban renewal, Detroit historian and author Ken Coleman said.
"Cobo was very, very hostile to the African American community. There's no question about it," Coleman said. "The conversation around whether or not the convention center should be renamed is something that certainly should happen."
Cobo's demolition of what he called the "backwards sections" of two neighborhoods cleared out hundreds of black-owned businesses and 7,000 black residents to make way for private development.
Cobo Center has had the name since it opened in 1960. The building underwent an extensive renovation and modernization project in recent years after its ownership was transferred from the city to a regionally governed authority. Prior to changing hands, Cobo Center had been losing about $21 million a year.
A Detroit Free Press columnist, Rochelle Riley, has campaigned to rename the convention center for boxing legend Joe Louis, with the neighboring Joe Louis Arena slated for demolition after the Detroit Red Wings move to a newly constructed arena this fall.