By Daniel Bentley
June 22, 2018

Michigan Central Station, the poster child for Detroit’s urban blight, could soon become a beacon for the city’s budding regeneration after being acquired by the Ford Motor Company.

It has been exactly three decades since the last train left the Beaux-Arts monolith, which was dedicated in 1914. Located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the station has since festered and decayed, been stripped of many of its original fixtures, and become a den of illicit activity. No more.

While Ford isn’t disclosing what it bought the building for, it’s likely the company will spend a significantly greater sum on renovations for the building.

Ford plans to use the building as an “innovation hub” which will house teams working on the future of mobility—think self-driving cars, ride sharing etc. The company’s headquarters are just a short distance away in the Detroit surburb of Dearborn but Bill Ford, the company’s executive chairman, told Fortune that having a presence in the city became increasingly important to him. “I started thinking about Detroit and specifically our need to integrate into the city streets and services for testing and learning as we think about the future of transportation.”

An artist's rendering of Ford's Corktown campus.

For Ford, Corktown made a lot of sense. Attractive real estate prices and the opportunity to acquire a Detroit landmark, for sure. But the area also has a strong family connection. His namesake William Ford, father of company founder Henry Ford, was originally from Cork, Ireland. Like many other Irish immigrants in Detroit, Ford settled in Corktown. “About 18 months ago we had a family reunion in a building called The Factory and it was at that point that I really started thinking about the possibility for Ford in this area,” Bill Ford said.

 

Bill Ford outside Michigan Central Station.
Bloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s also a recognition that to attract and retain top-level engineering talent—especially millennials—that Ford needed a thriving urban base.

Michigan Central Station will provide roughly half the floorspace of a larger 1.2 million square foot campus in Corktown; the company has already snapped up, or is in the process of acquiring, other properties in the area. Ford and its partners will occupy 900,000 sq. ft., the rest will be accessible to the community and visitors.

“We are going to completely renovate it and open it to the public,” Ford said. “The ground floor will be a mix of restaurants and retail. And, we want it to be a hub for the neighborhood and everything that is going on in the area.”

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