Corktown Aerial

Ford Invests In Future Technology, Local Neighborhoods With Purchase of Iconic Detroit Landmark

Ford Motor Company announced the acquisition of Michigan Central Station during a ceremony attended by employees, residents, city and state officials, and members of the media. Michigan Central Station, located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, will serve as a hub for autonomous and electric vehicle design, as well as the development of urban mobility services, including – but not limited to – connected vehicles, infrastructure, and public transit.

The announcement comes as the automaker celebrates its 115-year anniversary.

“Michigan Central Station is a place that in many ways tells the story of Detroit over the past century,” said Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We at Ford want to help write the next chapter, working together in Corktown with the best startups, the smartest talent, and the thinkers, engineers, and problem-solvers who see things differently – all to shape the future of mobility and transportation.”

Brief History

Michigan Central Station has been a fixture of Detroit for generations, finished in January of 1914 as the depot for the Michigan Central Railroad. At the time, the Michigan Central Railroad bought 50 acres of land in Corktown after the downtown depot at Third and Jefferson could no longer sustain the influx of passengers.

Michigan Central Station became the new designation, headed by the same architects that designed New York’s Grand Central Station. When it was constructed, it stood 13 stories high with a roof height of 230 feet, enough to make it the world’s tallest train station

The first train left for Saginaw and Bay City on December 26th, 1913 as the first arrival came from Chicago. In its prime, the depot served some 4,000 people daily. Among the many notable guests: Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Harry S. Truman in 1948. The park in front of the station was eventually named Roosevelt Park, in honor of Theodore Roosevelt who visited in 1916.

Michigan Central Station remained in service until January 6th 1988, slowly falling into ruin after Amtrak departed the station for the final time. On numerous occasions, the question was raised of who would be able to restore it. Dozens of suggestions, from luxury apartments to a police headquarters were proposed, all to no avail. For years, the iconic train station had plenty of interest, and certinately plenty of potential, but no suitor could be found.

Michigan Central Station (present day) has served as the backdrop for a number of films, including “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016, “Transformers” in 2007, and “8 Mile” in 2002. Photo: Detroit Historical Society.

Upward Expansion

The purchase of Michigan Central Station is one of several in the Corktown area for Ford. The automaker has also acquired the former Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, the site of an old brass factory, a refurbished former factory, and two acres of empty land. In time, Ford’s Corktown campus will consist of 1.2 million square feet of space, three-quarters of which will be split between the company and its partners.

Another 300,000 square feet will combine community areas, retail space, and residential housing.

Approximately 2,500 Ford employees, many from the mobility team, will be based in Corktown by 2022, with space by that time to accommodate another 2,500 employees of the automaker and/or other partners. Ford believes being situated in Detroit proper will help attract an array of talent, from promising startups to experienced engineers who want to tackle the biggest challenges facing mobility.

A postcard depicting Michigan Central Station, circa 1955. Photo: Detroit Historical Society.

Challenges & Opportunities

Michigan Central Station will be home to some of Ford’s most ambitious and forward-looking objectives. For example, the Corktown campus will facilitate the implementation of what Ford calls a “fresh approach” on how transportation can help citizens lead more productive and fulfilled lives.

“What Rouge was to Ford in the industrial age, Corktown can be for Ford in the information age,” explained Jim Hackett, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company. “It will be the proving ground where Ford and our partners design and test the services and solutions for the way people are going to live and get around tomorrow, creating a Southeast Michigan mobility corridor that spans west from Dearborn to Ann Arbor, and east to Detroit.”

The automaker notes that as cities become more populated, as infrastructure ages, and as new technologies become available, the way people get around will inevitably be impacted. To truly address this, Ford believes it will take more than just new vehicles – or even autonomous ones – but rather smart automobiles that can adapt and react to an increasingly connected world.

“This will be the kind of campus where the emerging economy thrives – a collaborative ecosystem of companies, educators, investors, and innovators,” Hackett continued. “This is where part of our team will live and work as a part of this community, alongside the customers and neighbors whose lives we’re trying to make better.”

“In Corktown, Ford’s efforts can come together in an urban environment, proving-out technology in the same environment where new ideas must be applied,” reads a statement from the automaker. “This campus has the potential to help return Detroit to being the ‘mobility capital of the world’ – shaping the future of transportation for the better.”

Community Service

It was Ford’s Highland Park and River Rouge plants that helped put the nation on wheels and create the middle class. At Willow Run, the War Effort saw the assembly of the planes and tanks that stopped an evil dictator during World War II. In Flat Rock, the Mustang continues to inspire a generation of enthusiasts, while in Kentucky, the big trucks that roll off the line serve as chariots for the working population.

It remains the automaker’s vision that Corktown becomes a similar staple in their history.

“Just as Dearborn does, Corktown holds a special place in my heart,” Ford said. “Henry Ford was the son of an immigrant. His father, William Ford, came over from Cork during Ireland’s potato famine. And Corktown was a destination for immigrants like him who came here with little more than hope.”

Under the company’s ownership, Michigan Central Station will see a complete restoration to its original luster, along with the addition of local shops, restaurants, and dedicated public spaces for area residents. The new Michigan Central Station will strike a balance, serving as a centerpiece for future innovation and standing as a monument to Detroit’s rich history.

“It was a place where you could reimagine what’s possible,” Ford said. “That’s what we want to do all over again, right here in Corktown – to build tomorrow, together.”

Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan. He studies mechanical engineering at Wayne State University, serves on the Board of Directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, and is a loyal Detroit Lions fan.

Michigan Central Station Gallery

Photos & Source: Ford Motor Company, Detroit Historical Society.