DETROIT – When some people see Detroit, they see bankruptcy and doom.
When Kelli Kavanaugh sees Detroit, she sees a fun town to tour by bicycle.
“If anything, we have more tour ideas than we can handle,” said the co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit, a bicycle rental shop on the downtown riverfront. The company’s newest is the Musical Heritage tour, which takes groups of up to 15 people to important Motown sites and places where techno, punk, rock, gospel, jazz and soul were developed.
Where some see Detroit’s low density and wide open spaces as proof of dire urban failure, Kavanaugh sees flat-out opportunity.
“Detroit has perfect spacing for biking. It’s 15 minutes from the Heidelberg Project to Midtown, a straight shot on a bike,” Kavanaugh, 43, said. “You get a better feeling for the geography of the city when you are riding.”
As Detroit is tangled in a nightmare of creditors, emergency managers, threats and problems, the city is also at its most beautiful just now. Riots of flowers bloom where you least expect them. The riverfront glistens.
Belle Isle may be shabby chic, but it’s a happy spot for picnics. And more Detroit companies are doing interesting tours – food tours, obscure bar tours, music tours and heritage tours to illuminate the culturally rich side of the city.
“We don’t want to push anything under the rug, but we show a healthy mix of what is now, how it got that way and what’s coming in the future,” said Andy Didosrosi, 26, who started the Detroit Bus Co. in 2011 and began tours on a funky painted bus in December.
Among its most unusual tours? “Frontier Anarchy: Go West!” about the pre-automotive history of Detroit, and “Detroit Dives,” a tour of iconic bars in the city.
“Detroit is such an insider city that it’s hard to know where to go. We are trying to make it easy to get shown around,” he said. “With just a little instruction, there’s a lot of fun to be had.”
D:hive, the Detroit welcome center on Woodward, for the first time is offering a $10 bus tour of the city at 11 a.m. Saturdays. It offers a free walking tour of the city, too, at 2 p.m. every Saturday and at 1 p.m. Mondays on the RiverWalk.
“It’s a community insiders’ tour,” said Jeanette Pierce, 32, spokeswoman for D:hive. “Living in Detroit, there is all this drama, but there are so many good things. All the positive does not make the negative go away. It’s not rose-colored glasses. But unless you know the positive here, you won’t think Detroit is worth fighting for.”
D:hive has given tours to 10,000 people in the past year, including tourists, locals, corporate new hires and small groups – private tours for groups of eight people or more. Among upcoming tours is a real estate tour for people thinking of moving into the city and an art tour that encompasses everything from graffiti to old masters.
Although most tours in the city are for adults, D:hive has one special upcoming tour for children. Wheelhouse Detroit will arrange and customize private tours for groups of six or more – families, businesses, even wedding parties – as will many tour companies in Detroit.
“This area is famous for its thinkers and its tinkerers,” said Nancy Darga, managing director of the MotorCities National Heritage Area. She announced the new tours in May at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, where Henry Ford and his team developed the Model T.
“I invite you to drive Detroit with your eyes open.”
The tours were launched as part of the Henry Ford 150 commemoration. The celebration of the automaker’s birth in 1863 will include many events.
The new tours should burnish the city’s reputation for auto tourism, says Michael O’Callaghan, CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. Already, auto-related summer tourism events like the Dream Cruise bring $100 million into the region each year.
The tours are part of an increasing effort to promote Windsor and Detroit together to visitors.
“Two-nation destination marketing is crucial in creating a sense of place and identity on both sides of the border,” said Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.
Two tours are self-drive, accompanied by audio narration you can download to your mobile phone. (To access the free audio, download a numbered PDF brochure at www.henryford150.com, then dial (313) 230-0902 and enter the stop number.)
“The Birthplace of the Canadian Automobile” tour in Winsdor goes to the old Walkerville Wagon Works, the Walkerville Brewery and the Canadian Transportation Museum and Heritage Village.
“The Life and Times of Henry” recommends stops such as the Ford Rouge complex, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, the Piquette plant and the cemetery where Henry and Clara Ford are buried.
“These driving tours were created so the average person could hop in their car and visit some sites that figured so prominently in the life of Henry Ford,” said audio narrator Joe Adams, president of the Henry Ford Heritage Association. “You can turn on and off the narration to proceed at your own pace.”
Where to book a tour
These companies offer scheduled tours; some also arrange private tours.
• D:hive, www.dhivedetroit.org, (313) 962-4590.
• Segways2U, www.segways2u.com, (855) 873-4929.
• Wheelhouse Detroit, www.wheelhousedetroit.com, (313) 656-2453.
• Detroit Bus Co., www.detroitbuscompany.com, (313) 444-2871.
• Detroit Tour Connections, www.detroittourconnections.com, (313) 283-4332.
• Detroit Urban Adventures, www.detroiturbanadventures.com, (313) 701-1900.
• Feet on the Street Tours, www.feetonthestreettours.com/, (248) 353-8687.
• Preservation Detroit, www.preservationdetroit.org, (313) 577-3559.
• Show Me Detroit Tours, www.showmedetroittours.com, (313) 444-2120.
• Detroit Historical Society, www.detroithistorical.org, (313) 833-1801.