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Here’s what we know about Ford’s move to Detroit

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The train station itself was too big to fail

Looking over Corktown to Michigan Central Station.
Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

The biggest rumor in Detroit was finally confirmed last week: Ford Motor Company bought Michigan Central Station and will start to build a big presence in Corktown. The company will unveil its plans June 19 in a community celebration at the old train station. Didn’t RSVP in time? Ford will livestream the event. Here are some answers to questions we’ve heard since the rumors started earlier this year.

News is moving very fast in Corktown right now. Do you have more questions? Heard anything we should cover? Are you a Corktown resident with something to say? Hit us up on the tip line or leave a comment below. We’ll continue to update this article with the most recent information.

What are Ford’s plans for Corktown and Michigan Central Station?

According to the Detroit Free Press, the company plans to eventually bring 2,500 Ford jobs to Corktown. Redevelopment of MCS could take until 2022, but the Free Press says,

In Detroit, Ford envisions a former train station that has coffee shops, restaurants and shopping on the first floor and office space for up to 5,000 people on the floors above. Much of the space will be leased out by Ford. The renovated depot will be a public attraction, but also a potential revenue generator.

Ford started releasing preliminary plans ahead of Tuesday’s press conference. We can expect a lobby open to the community, Michigan Central Station as an “innovation hub” for the future of transportation, and 5,000 jobs between Ford and its partners coming into the neighborhood.

Bill Ford says he could see the train station like San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal, which is also a big meeting place for the community.

Financials have not been released yet, so we’re waiting to hear what kind of tax incentives will be involved with a renovation this large.

What’s the deal with Michigan Central Station?

This grand beauty has towered over Corktown and Southwest Detroit for over 100 years. Opened in 1913, Michigan Central Station—or Depot, depending on who you ask—stands 18 stories high with a once-grand lobby three stories tall. It served as a bustling hub for transportation for decades—many area residents over the age of 40 remember boarding trains at the station.

But the last train rolled through in early 1988, and scrappers started ravaging the building. The Moroun family—who also own the Ambassador Bridge—bought Michigan Central Station in 1995. Since then, they’ve paid taxes on the building, but didn’t do much to protect it for a long time. It’s been the backdrop of countless movies, photos, and videos showcasing Detroit’s demise. Many thought it wouldn’t be saved, but also that it was too big to fail—how’s that for irony?

Interior view of Michigan Central Railroad Station, 1916.
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Several plans for the station have come and gone over the years, including demolition, new police headquarters, and a casino. But none of them were ever the right, until Ford came along.

Ford has been setting up for its big press conference on June 19, and on Thursday night, they displayed Detroit’s motto in lights, translated to, “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.”

“We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.” @ford

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But why is this such big news for Detroit?

There are a few answers to this one. Perhaps most importantly, the train station has long been the symbol of decline for Detroit. It’s been documented in films, national and international coverage of the city, and thousands of photos. Locally, it’s towered in stark contrast with one of Detroit’s trendiest neighborhoods. The symbolism here is huge.

It’s also a win for preservation fans. The task of renovating Michigan Central Station has seemed too big for a long time, and the Morouns had to find the right buyer to take on the massive structure.

It’s equally remarkable that Ford Motor Company—one of the Big Three that are so closely tied to the decline of the economy in Detroit—would be the one to take on this project. Ford is mostly located in Dearborn, a suburb to the west of Detroit. It hasn’t had a presence in the city since it left the Renaissance Center in the ’90s.

In May, the company moved over 200 employees into a refurbished building in Corktown—the Factory on Rosa Parks and Michigan Avenue. We don’t know how many employees Ford plans to move into the city yet, but we know they’ll be involved with autonomous vehicle development.

And Henry Ford didn’t actually love Detroit—or cities or unions. This is a Ford Motor Company for a new generation.

View of Michigan Central Railroad Station with Canadian Pacific trains in foreground, 1927.
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Why would Ford want to buy a big, expensive train station in Corktown?

Ford hopes this move will attract a lot of talent, or at least young people who would rather work in an urban environment than a suburban campus, and the renovation of the train station is a big selling point. Corktown is also a very walkable, trendy neighborhood with historic homes and buildings, bars, and restaurants.

What properties are in play in Corktown for Ford?

The real question is, what properties aren’t in play? Ford has bought the train station and its neighboring book depository, and the blue oval has already moved into the Factory on Michigan Avenue. But publications have linked other Corktown properties to the plan, including many lots between Michigan Avenue and I-75. We’ve recently noticed some bigger properties list near the train station, including land and industrial buildings.

Some larger warehouse-type properties have gone up for sale lately; we have to believe something has to happen with the CPA Building (long-abandoned and sometimes threatened with demo) where crews were recently seen boarding up the building even more. The Roosevelt Hotel sits in the shadow of the train station and has been owned by Dennis Kefallinos for years; there’s certainly opportunity for residential units or some sort of hotel here.

The Detroit News has reported that Ford could build a new parking deck near the old Tiger Stadium site and I-75, which would add secure parking to the neighborhood.

For now, this is speculation; we’ll soon find out just how big Ford’s footprint will be in the neighborhood.

Michigan Avenue in Corktown, looking toward downtown.
Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

How much will it cost to renovate the train station?

Since we don’t know Ford’s plans yet, it’s hard to say. Considering the enormity of the train station—and all that’s been stripped from it—it will easily go into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Morouns added historically inaccurate windows back in 2015, but otherwise the old depot has just been sitting, waiting. For comparison, Bedrock currently has a $313 million price tag on the Book Tower renovation. We’d have to think MCS would cost more.

Is it possible to see inside the train station?

Until recently, only construction workers and a few lucky guests at press conferences and the Detroit Homecoming event have been able to see inside the 18-story building. The train station also used to be popular with urban explorers, but it’s been locked up tight for the past few years. But that is about to change: The Detroit News reported that Ford will open the lobby to the public, which is incredible and exciting news in itself.

Michigan Central Station Lobby, taken July 2017.
Photo by Robin Runyan

Ford is hosting a large press conference/announcement of plans on June 19. The public is welcome, but must register. There, they’ll reportedly announce plans for a public open house June 22-24. Yes, you’ll legit be able to go into the train station.

What could this mean for Corktown and the surrounding neighborhoods?

When we put this question to readers a few months ago, many didn’t think this news would be as big as it’s now becoming. But Mayor Mike Duggan said this week that the move will be “one of the most significant developments in recent Detroit memory.”

Let’s be honest, Corktown is already a competitive real estate market. Two large developments are underway at Michigan and Trumbull—Elton Park and the Corner. There’s still plenty of land ready for development near the freeway and west along Michigan Avenue. This move should mean more investment in the area, but some longtime business owners have expressed concerns over being priced out of the area.

We imagine we’ll see more real estate activity in Southwest Detroit and—hopefully—more commercial activity west down Michigan Avenue. The Free Press recently talked to business owners along that stretch. With a renovation project this large, Ford will likely seek tax credits, meaning there could be a big community benefits package.

Will long-time businesses and residents be priced out? There’s so much speculation right now that it’s hard to gauge what might happen here. Land itself will be a hot commodity—here’s a parcel listed for $2 million.

As mentioned in the earlier open thread, infrastructure improvements to the area would be greatly appreciated.

Is it crazy to think this could lead to quicker transportation lines between Detroit, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor?

Let’s keep dreaming big. Michigan Central Station is being revived—anything is possible.

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Michigan Central Station

2198 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48216