Land deals consolidate 4 blocks of Detroit’s Corktown

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

More land deals are taking place near the Corktown building where Ford Motor Co. wants to create a Detroit campus for the business teams of its self-driving and electric vehicles divisions.

In a four-block area in the shadow of The Factory on Michigan Avenue at Rosa Parks Boulevard, at least 20 properties — mostly empty land — changed ownership hands from February through April 12, according to public records. The deals, including several by a trust run by members of the Khalil family, puts the area under tighter ownership control.

The transactions take place as the Dearborn automaker seeks multiple properties in Corktown, including the blighted Michigan Central Depot, where Ford would base other self-driving and electric vehicles teams, according to multiple sources familiar with ongoing talks. So far, Ford has officially committed only to The Factory at 1907-1927 Michigan Ave. The 45,000-square-foot facility will house 220 employees.

One block east of The Factory is where the land deals are taking place. The area is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the south, the Fisher Freeway service drive to the north, Cochrane Street to the east and Rosa Parks Boulevard to the west. A Ford Motor Co. representative didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Last week, public records were released that showed a single unidentified buyer purchased 12 vacant lots on the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Harrison and Cochrane streets. The buyer took steps to conceal its identity as well as the price paid for the properties.

On those same blocks, as well as some adjoining streets, seven vacant properties are now controlled by the Khalil trust, whose various members have owned Corktown property for decades. Those seven properties include four on the 2300 block of Harrison Street, and at 2302 Rosa Parks Boulevard, 1814 Kaline Drive and 1803 W. Fisher Freeway Service Drive, according to public records. Some of the properties were controlled by other members of the Khalil family but at least one was not, according to property records. At least three other entities controlled by members of Khalil family own other empty lots in the four-block area where the land deals are occurring.

Calls and emails to attorneys involved in the deals as well as several members of the Khalil family were not returned.

One of the families called the Khalil Bros. Inc. sold the property that will house Ford’s Factory. The Khalil Bros. sold the property in November 2015 for $1.8 million to an entity linked to Thomas Buhl, who owns a racing team and motocross marketing firm with his brother Robbie.

Thomas Buhl and the Khalil Bros. are involved in two transactions that took place last month for the 1740 Michigan Ave. building that houses the Detroit Athletic Co., a retailer of sports team apparel and souvenirs, according to public records released this week.

The Khalil Bros. bought the 3,600-square-foot building in 1989 for $47,500.

On April 12, the Khalil Bros. officially handed over the property deed to a limited liability company linked to Buhl, according to property records released this week. That same day, the Khalil Bros. and the Buhl-affiliated LLC entered a purchase-money mortgage for $1.2 million. That means the Khalil Bros. took out a mortgage on the building and the mortgage was provided by the seller, the LLC linked to Buhl. Attorneys representing Buhl didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did Buhl.

Representatives for Detroit Athletic Co. declined comment other than to send a Facebook message stating: “As far as I know, we’re here to stay.”

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN