When you come into Detroit after crossing over from Canada via Windsor, Ontario, the first thing you see is this huge, elegant building that at one time, was obviously a major public gathering place. And the building is a shambles, just like most other structures around it. This is your first view of a major American industrial city, and you’ll likely find yourself wondering how the hell things could have been allowed to deteriorate to this degree. It’s easy to write it off as more evidence of how badly Detroit, a place I lived for a while, has decayed since the race riot of 1967 that left great stretches of this proud city in flames. In pieces of varying proportions, Detroit has been able to haltingly move forward from a generation of neglect. It’s about to happen again, with a major assist from Ford.
The ravaged building just described was once the main passenger station of the Michigan Central Railroad, a once-spectacular structure that was nearly destroyed by years of unchecked arson and vandalism. Long a prime candidate for the wrecking ball, Michigan Central Station is instead going to be restored as the centerpiece of a 30-acre mobility research and innovation district. The station, abandoned since 1988, will be renovated under a plan first hatched in 2018 by executive chairman Bill Ford, which envisions a fully walkable environment for transportation research. Besides the passenger station, the district will encompass Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, plus adjoining areas of North Corktown, Mexicantown, and the neighborhood known as Hubbard Richard. Besides the station, the district will encompass the Book Depository, a new structure to be known as Building West, and The Factory, an existing structure when about 250 Ford employees are already at work on autonomous-driving technology. The Book Depository was designed by Albert Kahn, the great industrial architect of the early auto industry, whose creations also included another Detroit landmark, the original Packard plan, which was slated for preservation until an investment plan recently collapsed. As envisioned, the Michigan Central project will encompass open space, biking trails, shuttles, retail and residential use. The station’s elevated tracks will be repurposed as an open mobility workshop, and a 1,250-space parking deck is also planned. Both the deck and the Book Depository are expected to open by early 2022. Here’s where you can go to learn more of this very good news.