30 In Their Thirties: Mike McConnell, President, Display Group, Detroit

Between 1903 and 1956, the Packard plant in Detroit churned out luxury automobiles and Rolls Royce Merlin engines for P-51 Mustang fighter planes, the latter produced during World War II. Today, in a well-maintained warehouse from 1939 that’s at the north end of the once sprawling campus, you’ll find the Display Group, led by President Mike McConnell.
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Mike McConnell // Photo by Trever Long

Between 1903 and 1956, the Packard plant in Detroit churned out luxury automobiles and Rolls Royce Merlin engines for P-51 Mustang fighter planes, the latter produced during World War II. Today, in a well-maintained warehouse from 1939 that’s at the north end of the once sprawling campus, you’ll find the Display Group, led by President Mike McConnell.

The 255,000-square-foot building has become the creative and production center for world-class events like Detroit’s Movement Festival, a Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Racing Team party in Miami, the 420 Liv Cannabis event, and the Consulate of Italy’s LoveITDetroit design soiree.

“We love it here,” McConnell says of the Packard plant’s last standing structure. “We’ve poured millions in investment into this building.”

The Display Group does all of its fabrication using 3-D printers and other equipment, while other areas of the building are used to store sets and props for multiple themed activities such as hoedowns and rodeos, a Parisian palace, a tropical luau, and Christmas scenes.

McConnell was a 13-year-old freshman at Lake-view High School in St. Clair Shores when he was bitten by the production bug.

“I started working at the high school auditorium my freshman year,” he recalls. “I fell in love with production. I fell in love with the emotion that drives people when they’re seeing something and experiencing something. I like being behind the scenes and creating the atmosphere that evokes that emotion.”

He started Fairway Productions, a school dance deejay service, at age 14, and convinced many high schools in Macomb County to sign contracts for his company to provide the music for all of their annual dance events. “Over the years I learned that there was a production industry, which was great because I hated deejaying,” he says.

When he graduated, McConnell sold off the deejay contracts, kept the company name, and transitioned into production, equipment rental, and fabrication. In 2017, he joined forces with a competitor and formed AVL Creative. In December 2022, AVL Creative became the Display Group, with McConnell at the helm.

Of all the events he’s produced, the one of which he’s most proud is the annual holiday party at United Wholesale Mortgage in Pontiac.

“That’s a 300,000-square-foot convention center with brick walls and concrete floors and we come in, work on the design for eight months, and completely transform the space,” McConnell says. “We bring in 30 to 40 semi-trucks with equipment and set up for three weeks.

“It’s a really big undertaking and really lets us spread our wings and do what we’re really good at doing.”