Ford Will Turn Detroit’s Once-Mighty Train Station Into a Tech Hub


Michigan Central Station in Detroit opening postcard

Ford is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into becoming a cool employer of choice for Gen Y and Z in metro Detroit and beyond. Today it moved one step closer to its grand gambit: the automaker was officially confirmed as the buyer of the long-vacant Michigan Central Station in Corktown, a 104-year-old civic icon located in the oldest neighborhood on Detroit’s west side.

Now, it is slated to become a high tech hub as the future home of Ford’s software developers, engineers and other tech-savvy employees who are going to help write the company’s future.

The empty building is a local icon. The Beaux Arts-style train station, designed by the same architects behind New York’s Grand Central Terminal, was once the tallest train depot in the world. In fact, it served as Detroit’s main train hub until it was closed in 1988.

Since then, however, Michigan Central Station has fallen into disrepair, making it an eerie backdrop for post-apocalyptic movies and photo books about Detroit’s decline. In a bid to find the sellers and facing pressure from city officials, its current owners installed more than 1,000 windows to the station’s tower, restored an elevator and spruced up the interior.

While no surprise after months of speculation, the Moroun organization, a family-owned Detroit real estate organization that also owns the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario, certainly lucked out with landing a buyer like Ford. Selling to a global brand that’s eager to turn the property into an innovation hub and tech campus will revitalize the city and attract some of the best and brightest minds to Motown vs. Silicon Valley.

“The deal is complete,” patriarch Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who bought the station in 1995, proudly announced on Monday. “The future of the depot is assured. The next steward of the building the right one for its future. The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit’s progress and its success.”

‘Creating Tomorrow, Together’

Details are still TBA as the automaker will announce its plans at a party on June 19, when it’s inviting the public to attend its big reveal in what it’s billing as a civic celebration of sorts—and a coming out party for its new employer branding and positioning.

“Ford Motor Company cordially invites you to join us as we announce our plans for Michigan Central Station and Corktown. It will be a historic day for Detroit, the auto industry and the future of Ford — the start of a new era of innovation and mobility,” its invitation states. “Please join Bill Ford, Jim Hackett and many of Detroit’s creators, entrepreneurs, leaders and the community for a special celebration as we create tomorrow, together.”

Ford’s acquisition of the iconic train station follows recent announcements that it will invest in Corktown to woo tech-savvy and highly skilled workers to help shape crucial technology initiatives including electric and autonomous vehicles, such as its partnership for self-driving delivery service with Postmates.

Not surprisingly, Ford has a storied history in Detroit, including locating one of Henry Ford’s early assembly plants on Piquette Avenue, and occupancy nearly a half-century ago of the Renaissance Center, now GM’s corporate headquarters.

Ford is in the midst of spending $1.2 billion to overhaul its own corporate HQ in nearby Dearborn, Mich., with a similar goal in mind: creating an atmosphere like those at Silicon Valley employers that will help America’s oldest automaker keep pace not only with industry rivals but also with digital and tech giants such as Google and Apple, as powerful new technologies continue to transform the auto industry.

Investing In the Future

Ford’s ambitious investment in Detroit comes at a time when it’s facing financial pressure as its profit margins continue to trail those of GM and FCA. Ford CEO Jim Hackett is busy, among other future-proofing initiatives, preparing to phase out almost all of its sedans and passenger cars in the coming years in favor of more utility vehicles.

Restoring the train station to a vital hub of technology and innovation will boost Detroit’s civic pride and hark back to the city’s glory days. As the train station’s 1914 opening was heralded in the postcard at top:

“The New Michigan Central Station is located near Michigan Avenue between fifteenth and seventeenth Streets, covers twenty-one acres and the total cost is $15,000,000.00.  There will be eleven tracks in the station that will accommodate 135 passenger coaches.  It will have all conveniences, such as a complete Drug Store with special facilities for the care of Invalids and Change Room where travelers can at nominal cost obtain Shower Baths and make a change of clothing.  Accommodations for passengers will not be outdone by any Railroad Station in the World.”