It’s all but Blue Oval-stamped official: Ford has purchased Detroit’s long-abandoned train depot, marking a return to the city where the company was founded 113 years ago and representing a pivotal moment for the economic fortunes of a long-suffering city.
Ford’s purchase of the decaying, 104-year-old Michigan Central Station was announced at a news conference organized by local businessman Matthew Moroun, whose family has owned the building since 1995.
“The deal is complete,” Moroun said. “Ford Motor Company’s blue oval will adorn the building.”
Ford spokesman Said Deep issued a brief statement following the announcement: “These are exciting times for Ford and Detroit. Together with the community, we look forward to announcing our plans for Michigan Central Station and Corktown on June 19th. It will be a historic day for Detroit, the auto industry and the future of Ford.”
That Ford was negotiating to buy the massive building, vacant since the late 1980s and until recent years lacking most of its windows, was the worst-kept secret in Detroit. News first leaked in March that Ford was eyeing the building, and the family transferred ownership on the building and an adjacent former schoolbook depository last month; Moroun himself told local media that Ford first approached the family about selling it in October of last year.
Ford is thought to be planning it as the anchor of an urban mobility campus in Detroit’s steadily revitalizing Corktown neighborhood, named for its waves of immigrants from Ireland’s County Cork, including the ancestors of Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. The company has also been negotiating for dozens of other nearby properties to form a campus to develop electric and autonomous vehicles. Ford recently moved 220 employees to a nearby building it calls The Factory to work on electric and autonomous vehicles.
Ford reportedly sees a move back into the city, where it hasn’t had a presence since 1996, as part of a strategy to help attract talent and help jump-start efforts to develop self-driving cars and electric vehicles. There are also rumors that Ford Jr. wants an office in the building.
The purchase of the building would have been seen as improbable even a year ago, having sat empty and windowless for decades, tagged by graffiti artists and serving as a destination for “ruin porn” photographers and urban spelunkers from around the world. The building will no doubt need tens of millions of dollars worth of renovations and upgrades for modern technology needs.
In recent years, the Moroun family said it spent $8 million to build a freight elevator inside the building’s old smokestack, removing asbestos and installing more than 1,000 windows, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. The news has so far had little impact on Ford’s stock, which was up a penny to $12.11 in early trading Monday.