Automotive News: Ford’s Michigan Central Station Purchase – An Institution Buys An Iconic Landmark

In hindsight, I should’ve rented a Mustang and photographed it in front of the imposing, monolithic and long-shuttered Michigan Central Station. I didn’t see this coming, though: Ford purchasing a Detroit landmark that has been closed since 1988.

It’s been a long and tortuous journey for the preservation of this landmark, situated in the Corktown neighborhood just outside of downtown Detroit. In 2009, the city council passed a resolution to demolish MCS even though it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Michigan Central Station in 1927. Photo courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library.

It was spared from the wrecking ball but fans of this stunning Beaux Arts building have continued to be disappointed as plans for its restoration and repurposing have fizzled out, and all the while the building has continued to be stripped and vandalised. Over the years, it’s been mooted as a new police headquarters, a casino, a convention center and a processing center. None of these plans ever eventuated but now, with Ford’s purchase, the station looks set to be returned to its former glory.

Michigan Central Station will be the anchor in a new 1.2 million square-foot campus in Corktown, reaching all the way to another heritage building Ford has purchased, The Factory. The terminal itself will be a mixed-use facility comprising offices, restaurants, shops, and potentially even apartments; floors that have never seen tenants in the building’s history will finally have offices. Ford intends to have 2,500 employees working in the Corktown campus by 2022, primarily in the areas of mobility and autonomous driving. Corktown will serve as one point along a “mobility corridor”, stretching to Ford’s main Dearborn campus and to Ann Arbor.

Ford’s even planning to re-open the main waiting room to the public, a breathtaking space designed to resemble a Roman bathhouse with its vaulted ceilings, extensive use of marble, and imposing columns.

The terminal’s most recent owner, Controlled Terminals, acquired the building in 1996. This company was run by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge. Under Moroun’s ownership, various improvements were made such as the return of electricity in 2012, and the draining of the flooded basement and the installation of windows in 2015. For the most part, though, the building has been kept in a state of arrested decay.

I first visited MCS in 2012, before windows had been installed. It’s hard to capture in photos just how imposing this 18-story building is. At the time of its opening in 1914, it was the tallest train station in the world. There are no buildings anywhere near as tall for several blocks, thus making MCS look like a bluff monolith jutting out of the relatively flat landscape of Corktown.

As a lover of Detroit and its fabulous architecture, I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to hear about Ford’s purchase. It’s even greater news for the city of Detroit, a city that seems to have put its worst days behind it. More and more companies are making the Motor City their home and downtown is buzzing with activity, construction and renovation work happening everywhere. Ford is investing heavily in the new Corktown campus and restoring one of the city’s most famous buildings is an awe-inspiring gesture. I look forward to watching the progress of Ford’s restoration work. Empty for years, the building will soon be bustling with people. Once a hub for trains, this grand old building will become a hub for a new generation of transportation.

Bold move, Ford.