DETROIT – Ford is interested in further expanding in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, including into Michigan Central Station after 30 years of vacancy.
Talks are ongoing, sources said, but no deals have been finalized. The automaker has been considering the building for several months and is looking at the idea of a campus at the site.
Such a development — if it happens — would build on Ford’s recent decision to buy and fix up an old pantyhose factory in the area for 220 members of its self-driving and electric vehicle team, known as Team Edison.
Even given Detroit’s downtown resurgence in the past six years, this would be one of the most significant redevelopment projects in the city so far.
Central Station, out of service and closed to the public since 1988, is perhaps Detroit’s most renowned urban ruin.
“This would take resurgence to a whole new level,” said former Detroit City Council Member Sheila Cockrel, now a member of the Corktown Business Association. “Whoever does that, they will become an iconic name for rebuilding American cities.”
After social media exploded with speculation about the prospect one day last month, Ford issued a statement that did not rule out acquisition of the 105-year-old train station.
The automaker’s Team Edison workers will be located at 1907 Michigan Av., a building across from the old Tiger Stadium site and within walking distance of the train depot.
“While we anticipate our presence over time will grow as our AV/EV teams begin moving downtown in May, we have nothing further to announce at this time,” the Ford statement said.
Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Dearborn-based company, offered public remarks in December that alluded to Detroit having a bigger role in Ford’s future. The company started in Detroit in 1903.
“Returning to Detroit is particularly meaningful because it is where my great-grandfather originally set out to pursue his passion and where we have always called our home,” Ford said at the time. “We are planting a special piece of our company’s future in one of the city’s great neighborhoods, because we believe in Detroit, its people and what we can build together.”
The Corktown location holds a special significance for Ford, whose ancestors emigrated from County Cork, Ireland, to the Dearborn area years ago. Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, derives its name from immigrants from County Cork who settled there.
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun bought the old train station out of tax foreclosure in 1995. Under pressure from the city, the Moroun family recently installed more than 1,000 windows in the station’s tower, restored a working elevator and cleaned up the interior. Last fall, the Morouns made the station available for tours.
Various proposals have been floated over the years for what to do with the train station, including casinos and a new Detroit police headquarters, but none panned out.
Michigan Central Station was built in 1913 and designed by the same firms that did New York’s Grand Central Station.
For decades, it operated as a key hub of Detroit life, the place where new immigrants arrived in the city and where Detroiters left for or returned from World War II.
But the decline of trains in America’s transportation network drained away visitors. After the station closed in 1988, scavengers and vandals gradually reduced it to a near ruin.
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, said a train station redevelopment would be an exciting project for Detroit, although it is unclear how Ford could make use of it.
“Not so long ago, it was a glorious building, but it since became the symbol of a decaying Detroit,” she said.
Said Detroit historian Dan Austin, who has published books on the city’s fabled buildings, “I can’t think of a more powerful statement about Detroit’s incredible turnaround than taking the biggest symbol of the city’s decline and turning it into the biggest symbol of its rebirth.
“This is a building that just a few years ago was threatened with demolition and so many had written off as being impossible to save,” he added. “It’s a day that many preservationists and history lovers, myself included, never thought that we’d see in our lifetimes.”