Since its opening in 1960, Detroit’s Cobo Center has become one of the country’s most famous venues, drawing visitors to the banks of the Detroit River for the nation’s premier auto shows, concerts, political conventions and an endless variety of other events.

In fact, it has often been described as a symbol of Detroit’s “living spirit,” which is why the $299 million renovation it is currently going under is vitally important to the community. According to local and state officials, the renovation, which includes a soaring new atrium that opens onto the city’s iconic riverfront, aims to reinvigorate the convention center and the entire region, in part by establishing connections with downtown Detroit and the Detroit River. In fact, it is actually hoped the renovation catalyzes the revitalization of a city that has fallen on hard times in recent years.

To help ensure the renovation to this iconic structure is being done correctly, at least when it comes to the tile installation, which featured a variety of large-format and thin tiles, installers have been relying on the help of H.B. Fuller’s TEC brand products.

Because Cobo hosts two of the Motor City’s most iconic annual events—the North American International Auto Show, one of the largest car shows on the continent, and Autorama, a large showcase of custom cars, Bob Michielutti, owner of Michielutti Bros, the tile contractor for the space, said the TEC system underwent testing before installation to determine how it would perform under heavy wheel loads.

The same could be said for the new three-story atrium, which features a panoramic view of the river through floor-to-ceiling glass windows and helps create 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 fom Michielutti also used TEC products to place 1 x 2-foot floor tiles and 1 x 3-meter thin wall panels in nearby restrooms.

“In the atrium, we did a mockup using TEC products to set large-format porcelain tiles,” explained Michielutti. “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.”

While the 2 x 4-foot beige and white tiles deliver a simple, refined appearance to the atrium, Matt Shumard, finisher for Michielutti, noted TECproducts addressed a variety of challenges in the space prior to their installation.

“In Michigan,” he noted, “the ground is always moving. It’s freezing and thawing, which can cause the substrate to expand and contract. That’s why we used TEC’s HydraFlex.”

TEC’s Multipurpose Primer and HydraFlex Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane were used both in the restrooms and in the atrium. In the restrooms, Michielutti said HydraFlex provides waterproofing, while in the atrium, crack isolation was most important.

Although HydraFlex may help prevent future cracking in the substrate, he said his installers also needed to address Cobo’s existing problems. “An even substrate was crucial for successful installation of the large thin tile used in the atrium.”

However, Michielutti added, when his installers began work, they found an uneven subfloor, which is why the company turned to TEC’s Fast-Set Deep Patch to help correct the problem.

As Shumard explained, “The substrate was very challenging. It was up to ¼-inch higher and 2-inches lower than the level plane, so we used Fast-Set Deep Patch to level it. The product is very strong, and it sets fast. Now we have a flat floor—you can roll a quarter across it.”

Michielutti pointed out TEC’s Ultimate Large Tile Mortar also contributed to the floor’s uniform surface. “Despite the fact two different colors of tile with slightly different thicknesses were used in the atrium, the Ultimate Large Tile Mortar helped account for that difference and allowed us to achieve a more consistent floor.”

The product also helped installers when it came to the thin tiles specified for the walls, he added. “Its non-sag characteristics was a benefit to the large, thin panels installed on the walls of the convention center’s restrooms, and we also used it to install tile on the floors as well.”

Michielutti said TEC’s Power Grout Ultimate Performance Grout, was also used by his crew to help provide stain-, crack- and efflorescence-resistance and color uniformity throughout the atrium and restrooms. And, he noted, other TEC products are set to be used for the installation of the ceramic wall tile in the convention center’s kitchen.

The three-phase Cobo Center’s renovation, which began in 2009, is expected to be completed by January 2015. The atrium was completed late last year. 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.

To learn more about the TEC products mentioned here and being used as part of the Cobo Center renovation, visit or call (800) 552-6225. For more details about the installation itself, contact Michielutti Bros. at (586) 776-4990 or And, for more about the Cobo Center itself and the complete renovation, visit