Sale of Michigan Central Depot, book depository revealed Monday

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
The longtime owners of Michigan Central Depot and the adjacent book depository are expected next to confirm sales of the buildings at a Monday morning press conference The buildings are widely believed to be part of a Detroit campus being created by Ford Motor Co.

Detroit – The longtime owners of Michigan Central Depot and the adjacent book depository are expected to confirm sales of the buildings at a Monday morning press conference. The properties are widely believed to be part of a Detroit campus being created by Ford Motor Co.

Matthew Moroun, the heir to his father's transportation and logistics firm, will provide details of the recent sales at 9 a.m. press event, officials for the Morouns said Sunday. 

Recently the deeds of the long-vacant Detroit properties were transferred to an entity linked to a New York law firm that has represented Ford.

Multiple sources close to the situation say Ford plans to announce sometime the week of June 18 its plans to redevelop the moribund train station and other Corktown properties it has been amassing to form an urban hub for its self-driving and electric vehicle divisions.


Ford has repeatedly declined to comment directly about any sale, deferring to a company statement that it expects to grow its presence in Detroit and will share details later.

In May, Ford's business teams for autonomous technology and electrification moved into another Corktown facility known as The Factory at Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard. The facility is about four blocks east of the former train station.

Ford wants to reverse the company's exodus from Detroit. The automaker founded in the city 113 years ago by Henry Ford sold its stake in the Renaissance Center and retreated to its Dearborn enclave in 1996.

Ford is not only in talks to buy the former train station. The city appears to be helping Ford gather data on parcels of nearby land — from rail easements to empty buildings and vacant lots — where Ford potentially could create its own campus, according to a city official close to the situation.

A move to Corktown would complement the automaker’s planned 10-year renovation of its Dearborn facilities, including major redevelopment of tired storefronts along Michigan Avenue in West Dearborn into multi-story, mixed-use buildings. Ford officials say creation of a Detroit campus would not weaken the automaker’s presence in its hometown.

Corktown strikes a sentimental chord with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. His ancestors hailed from the county in Ireland for which Detroit's oldest neighborhood is named. 

“I’ve seen Detroit at its best, and I’ve seen it at its worst,” the Ford scion said in December when the company announced its purchase of The Factory, a renovated building not far from the train station where Ford recently relocated its electric and autonomous unit known as Team Edison. “We want to be part of it.”

In the past, Moroun officials said restoring the Michigan Central Depot could be anywhere from a $100 million to $300 million job.

The 18-story former train station is one of Detroit's most infamous blighted buildings, and since the late-1990s has been controlled by an entity linked to the billionaire family.  The family, which also owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, has been in frequent legal clashes with the federal, state and local government, as well as Canadian branches of government; those legal actions have been over Moroun properties, as well as the family's opposition to the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge that would compete with the Ambassador.

Over the years, proposals for the vacant train depot have included converting it to a casino, police headquarters or international trade center.