Reviving Detroit???s Cobo Convention Center

Words: Dan Kamys

>>> Case Study: Rehabs and Restorations

Described as a symbol of Detroit’s living spirit, Cobo Center is in the midst of a $279 million renovation. The renovation includes a soaring new atrium that opens onto the city’s iconic riverfront. The renovation at Cobo aims to catalyze the revitalization of Detroit. In the atrium and adjacent restrooms, TEC products helped tile installers create a vibrant space. Since its opening in 1960, Cobo Center has drawn visitors to the banks of the Detroit River for the nation’s premier auto shows, political conventions and more. Its renovation aims to reinvigorate the convention center and the entire region, in part, by establishing connections with downtown Detroit and the Detroit River.
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TEC Power Grout Ultimate Performance Grout, provides stain-, crack- and efflorescence-resistance and color uniformity at Cobo. TEC Power Grout Ultimate Performance Grout, provides stain-, crack- and efflorescence-resistance and color uniformity at Cobo.
TEC products were used to install 2-foot-by-4-foot tile in Cobo's atrium.
TEC HydraFlex, visible here, provides crack isolation in Cobo's atrium. TEC HydraFlex, visible here, provides crack isolation in Cobo's atrium.
With a panoramic view of the river through floor-to-ceiling glass windows, Cobo’s three-story atrium creates a physical link between the convention center’s dramatic new riverfront entrance and main concourse. The 250- X 65-foot atrium can host 600 people seated for a meal; 1,000 seated theater-style; and 1,200 for receptions. Large-format tiles, installed with a wide range of TEC products, span the atrium’s floor. Installers also used TEC products to place one- by two-foot floor tiles and one- by three-meter large, thin wall panels in nearby restrooms. Cobo hosts two of the Motor City’s most iconic annual events: the North American International Auto Show, one of the largest auto shows on the continent, and Autorama, a large showcase of custom cars. With consideration for these events, the TEC system underwent testing before installation to determine how it would perform under heavy wheel loads. “In the atrium, we did a mockup using TEC products to set large-format porcelain tiles,” says Bob Michielutti, owner of Michielutti Bros Inc., the tile contractor for the space. “After 30 days, heavy construction vehicles, including forklifts and scissor lifts, were driven over the floor. It didn’t budge. From then on, the building owner and architect shared our confidence in the TEC system and the warranty TEC was going to provide.” Although today, two- by four-foot beige and white tiles deliver a simple, refined appearance to the atrium, TEC products addressed a variety of challenges in the space prior to their installation. TEC Multipurpose Primer and HydraFlex Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane were used both in the restrooms and in the atrium. In the restrooms, HydraFlex provides waterproofing, while in the atrium, crack isolation was most important. “In Michigan, the ground is always moving,” says Matt Shumard, finisher for Michielutti Bros Inc. “It’s freezing and thawing, which can cause the substrate to expand and contract. That’s why we use HydraFlex.” HydraFlex may help prevent future cracking in the substrate, but installers also needed to address its existing problems. An even substrate was crucial for successful installation of the large, thin tile used in the atrium. However, when installers began work, they found an uneven subfloor and turned to TEC Fast-Set Deep Patch to help correct the problem. “The substrate was very challenging,” says Shumard. “It was up??to ??-inch??higher and two inches lower than the level plane, and we used??Fast-Set Deep Patch to level it.??Fast-Set Deep??Patch is very strong, and it sets fast. Now we have a flat floor;??you can roll a quarter across it.” According to Bob Michielutti, TEC Ultimate Large Tile Mortar also contributes to the floor’s uniform surface. Despite the fact that installers used two different colors of tile with slightly different thicknesses in the atrium, TEC Ultimate Large Tile Mortar helped to account for that difference and achieve a more consistent floor. It also delivers its non-sag characteristics to the large, thin panels installed on the walls of the convention center’s restrooms, and was used to install tile on their floors as well. In Cobo’s atrium and restrooms, another product in the TEC roster, TEC??Power Grout??Ultimate Performance Grout, provides stain-, crack- and efflorescence-resistance and color uniformity. TEC??products will also be used for the installation of the ceramic wall tile in the convention center’s kitchen. The Cobo Center atrium was completed in late-2013. The convention center’s renovation began in September 2009 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. Other aspects of the renovation include a 40,000-square-foot grand ballroom, a TV broadcast studio with satellite uplink capability, giant exterior video walls for event information and an open-air terrace overlooking the river for event and community programming. TEC, HydraFlex and Power Grout are trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. For more information, visit and Return to Table of Contents
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