Ford has announced plans for the first phase of the complete makeover of the historic Michigan Central Station. That former transit hub has been vacant and open to the elements since 1988. When completed, the 105-year-old train station will be the anchor of Ford’s new $740 million mobility-focused campuses in the Corktown district of Detroit. The project is seen as another indication that the downtown area of Detroit is undergoing a commercial renaissance.
Michigan Central Depot or MCS is a 505,000-square-foot building, consisting of a train depot and a 13-story office building. When it was constructed in 1914, it was the tallest and the largest train station in the world. But within twenty years of its opening, passenger train service through Detroit was already declining. And except for an increase of use by troops during World War II, MCS continued its decline. By the early 1970s, Amtrak was the only remaining tenant and it was only using a small part of the station.
The building closed for good in 1988 and despite several planned renovations – including one by the city of Detroit – Michigan Central Station has remained empty. Owners had spent nearly $12 million on a new roof and windows, but it wasn’t until early in 2018 that Ford came forward to acquire the building. The auto builder also purchased the adjacent Roosevelt Warehouse and plans to turn the complex into a development and deployment center for Ford’s new line of autonomous vehicles. The first-floor concourse will also reopen to the public with a mix of restaurants and retail establishments. When the complex is finished in 2022, it’s expected to cost about $740 million.
The first step in the $350 million renovations of Michigan Central Station is focused on making the building safer for workers and winterizing the building. A giant net has been strung across the large two-story lobby to protect workers from falling debris. The net is capable of stopping anything weighing up to 1,000 pounds. Other nets will be strung on some of the exterior areas, which have already experienced widespread damage due to weather and neglect.
Other improvements will include a full survey and examination of the exterior, as well as a complete replacement and upgrade of plumbing and electrical systems throughout the MCS. Another high priority is sealing and winterizing the building, which is plagued with a number of wall cracks, faulty windows, and doors that need to be replaced.
Phase two of the Michigan Central Station renovation will focus on restoring the exterior masonry and beginning work on stabilizing the interior spaces and preparing it for the phase three interior redesign. Much of that masonry work will be labor-intensive
One of the biggest tasks in phase three construction will be the restoration of the Roman bathhouse-like front room with 55-foot ceilings and massive stone arches. The restoration will include a complete removal, restoration, and repair of 21,000 square feet of Guastavino tile. A newly-designed 3-D scanning technology will allow workers to replace some of the large features pieces that have either been damaged or lost in the years the building was open to the elements.
When completed in 2020, this complex will be a major component of Ford Motor Company’s shift to autonomous vehicles. In recent months, company executives have repeatedly stated that these primarily self-driving vehicles will become the fastest-growing part of the veteran automotive company.
According to company executives. autonomous vehicles will first be rolled out in the package delivery and other commercial markets. These routes and deliveries are seen as the easiest ones to convert to self-driving vehicles since they tend to be used in very predictable ways.
But the company also believes that at least half of the vehicles they sell in 2025 will have at least some autonomous driving features and this new Michigan Central Station will serve as the centerpiece of the new campus devoted to these new vehicles.
This new campus is a massive investment for the Michigan-based automotive firm. It agreed to pay $90 million for the Michigan Central Station as well as $10 million to help jumpstart other business development in the surrounding Corktown neighborhood. To help with the neighborhood development, the company has contracted a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit urban planning and real estate education to help guide the companies efforts. The Urban Land Institute has already begun meeting with community leaders as well as representatives from the various city, state and federal planning and development commissions.
The total redevelopment cost for the company could reach as much as $850 million, depending on the final costs of renovation. To help pay for that, it has obtained about $240 million in state, county, and city tax breaks. They will also shift some development and research money away from their traditional vehicle lines to their new autonomous vehicle development and production.