Gallery: The Rebirth of Detroit's Michigan Central Train Station

June 03, 2024, 6:49 AM by  Allan Lengel

(Photo by Allan Lengel)

For decades, the shuttered train station off Michigan Avenue in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood was a nagging symbol of urban decay. It was also the reason many Detroiters vilified Matty Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge, blaming him for failing to develop the blighted, Beaux-Arts style structure after he bought it 1995.  

In 2018, Ford Motor Company came to the rescue, buying Michigan Central Station for $90 million from the Moroun family, and subsequently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convert the beast back to a beauty. It opened in 1913, with the last Amtrak train leaving the station to Chicago on Jan. 5, 1988. From there, it was downhill.

Bill Ford (Michigan Central photo)

On Thursday, Michigan Central Station, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, will throw a slickly produced concert outside the station, to officially mark its reopening. Performers for the crowd of 15,000 will include some of the biggest names in the music industry with Detroit ties. In the following days, tours will be given, and on limited days in the summer, people will be able to take self-tours, using an audio app on their phone. 

Ford’s plans call for the station to be the center piece of a 30-acre innovation and collaboration hub that will ultimately include thousands of Ford employees and workers from private startups and businesses focused on mobility and transportation. Ford also hopes it becomes a magnet for the community, with retail shops, a hotel, a destination restaurant, meeting spaces for gatherings and possibly the return of the Amtrak service near the station. Ford said it will take three to five years for at least most of the plan to come to fruition. 

“I wanted Michigan Central to be beautifully restored but also reimagined for so much more,” Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford said in statement. “This will be a place for the community to enjoy and a destination for visitors from all over. We will have restaurants, music, art, and great retail. And the innovation that will happen here, with startups and companies big and small, will help ensure Detroit preserves its title as the Motor City for generations to come.”

The campus has other related buildings including Newlab, a former public school book depository next door that Ford renovated and opened last year. It currently houses 97 startups and about 600 workers. In all, Ford will spend nearly $1 billion on the project, while it gets about $200 million in tax breaks. The first tenants for the station will arrive in June, with Ford employees beginning to move in this fall.

Matthew Moroun in 2018 announcing sale.

Ford didn’t skimp on the restoration. Over the last six years, more than 3,100 skilled-trade workers collectively spent 1.7 million hours.  They began by removing debris and pumping out 3.5 million gallons of water from the basement. At one point, to restore part of the front façade, and match it to the rest of the building, the renovation team located the same Indiana limestone quarry where the original stone was sourced more than a century ago. They reopened the quarry, closed since the 1980s, and mined more than 600 tons of limestone to make the replacement.

Additionally, the renovation team replaced or restored 102,000 square feet of windows and installed 4,200 new light fixtures. And to preserve and honor its time as a ruin, it kept certain patches of graffiti from well-known artists.

Bill Ford talks of the station with great pride and a strong sense of history.

“Michigan Central means a great deal to us all. In many ways, this building tells the story of our city,” said Ford in a statement. “This Station was our Ellis Island – a place where dreamers in search of new jobs and new opportunities first set foot in Detroit. But once the last train pulled out, it became a place where hope left.

“In 2018, I decided it was time to change that by reimagining this station as a place of possibility again. Over the past six years, Ford Motor Company and teams of forward thinkers, designers, community leaders, and more than 3,000 skilled tradespeople have worked to bring this landmark back to life.” 

As for Moroun; his former lawyer William Seikaly tells Deadline Detroit that his billionaire client tried for years to develop the building, but his various plans were met with “roadblocks” that prevented him from succeeding.

“If they were demonizing him because he was just sitting on it with no plans, that was just false,” Seikaly says.

In June 2018, it was Moroun’s son Matthew,  who stood in front of the station and announced at a well-attended press conference:

"The deal is complete. The future of the depot is assured. The next steward of the building is the right one for its future. The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit's progress and its success."

Matty Moroun died in 2020 at age 93 of congestive heart failure. His son Matthew, who had been working with his father, now runs the business which includes an international trucking and logistics company.

The Michigan Central Station development is having an impact on the immediate neighborhoods Corktown and Mexicantown, the latter which is sometimes just referred to as Southwest.

To read more about that impact on the residents and businesses, click here to read the story I wrote for the New York Times.

102,000 sq feet of windows were replaced or restored.
Photo: Allan Lengel
Bill Ford (Michigan Central photo)
The station kept some graffiti.
Outside the beauty shows. (Photo: Allan Lengel)
(Photo: Allan Lengel) 
Ceilings were restored.
Photo: Allan Lengel
More graffiti that was kept (Photo: Allan Lengel)





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