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DETROIT-A billion-dollar question is hanging in the air in Detroit–how to pay for a new convention center in the city.

Local tourism and convention officials, along with the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which sponsors the North American International Auto Show, are pushing for a new convention center in the city.

A source close to the negotiations told GlobeSt.com that Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick favors a plan to build a new center that would feature 1 million to 1.5 million sf of convention space on the main floor. The possible price tag could be as much as $1.3 billion to pay for the 60 or so acres that would be needed for a new location and construction of the facility.

Detroit’s existing Cobo Conference Center features about 600,000 sf of convention space on the main floor and about another 100,000 on a lower level.

Cobo’s main event, the auto show, starts with media events on January 4. Kilpatrick is to speak at the Detroit Economic Club on January 9, where his topic will be “The Future of Cobo Conference Center.”

“The manufacturers have been telling us for several years, if we had more space, they’d would bring more stuff,” said Chuck Fortinberry, senior co-chairman of the 2004 North American International Auto Show. “We’re putting product out in the concourse for crying out loud.”

“I think the mayor personally would like a new one,” Fortinberry told GlobeSt.com.

A one-cent per dollar regional tax increase on food and beverages is being suggested as a possible way to pay for a new or expanded Cobo Center.

The additional convention space would allow the city to compete for up to 40 more shows that cannot fit in Cobo’s tight exhibition areas, said Bill Connellan, executive director of the Tourism Economic Development Council, a part of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau in Detroit.

Connellan told GlobeSt.com that another option would be to expand the existing Cobo by building a new level on top of the existing structure, but that wouldn’t create the desired 1 million sf or more of contiguous convention space. “Ideally, you would build new if possible,” he said.

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