$6M invested for Corktown community benefits, Ford says

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. has fulfilled or made progress on 36 out of 43 commitments it made on initiatives such as affordable housing and workforce development as part of a community benefits agreement tied to its Michigan Central project in Corktown.

So far, the Blue Oval has fulfilled its promise to contribute $2.5 million to a city affordable housing fund, invested $2 million of a planned $3 million for workforce development initiatives, contributed $1 million of $2.5 million to be spent on neighborhood development and invested $500,000 of a planned $2 million for education and youth development.

And Friday, applications will open for a $750,000 home-repair program Ford is funding in the three neighborhoods covered by the agreement.

drone shot of the Michigan Central Station, centerpiece of Ford's Corktown Campus.

That's according to an update provided by the city and Ford officials Thursday. The automaker has completed eight commitments and started work on 28. The full presentation is available on the city's website

The agreement was negotiated under the city's Community Benefit Ordinance (CBO). The Michigan Central CBO covers the neighborhoods of Hubbard Richard, North Corktown and Historic Corktown. 

Voters passed the ordinance in 2016, making Detroit the first in the nation to require developers of large-scale projects to negotiate benefits with neighborhood residents. Neighborhood Advisory Councils are convened to negotiate the projects that meet the ordinance's criteria.

Ford is in the process of developing 1.2 million square feet in Corktown as part of a project centered around the redevelopment of the former Michigan Central Train Depot. The building, once restored, will feature ground-level public space topped by workspace for Ford and its partners.

The $740 million project envisions Michigan Central and surrounding buildings as a mobility and innovation hub where 2,500 Ford employees will be joined by 2,500 others collaborating on the technologies that will shape the future of transportation and mobility.

The Blue Oval recently unveiled the site plan for the development. The project includes redevelopment of the Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository building that sits adjacent to the former train station into a mixed-use maker space, construction of a new building to the west of the station and construction of a parking garage east of the station.

The Book Depository and parking hub are slated to be complete in early 2022. Michigan Central is scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.

Michigan Central site plan

Under the CBO, Ford has agreed to support neighborhood development by participating in the city's Greater Corktown planning process and investing in a Strategic Neighborhood Fund. 

The home repair program would provide help for to up to 50 homeowners in an area that has about 2,000 households. Priority will be given to the lowest-income applicants then to those who've been homeowners the longest.

City and Ford officials fielded questions about the program as well as requests to expand eligibility and increase the grant allocations.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose district includes part of the area involved in the project, pressed officials to consider increasing the size of the grants, saying $15,000 may not be enough for some homeowners to make repairs.

"Ford team: Please consider being much more aggressive on home repair grants and accommodating for those who may not meet all the requirements due to the fact that most original residents are low income," said Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, in a message during the virtual meeting that drew nearly 150 attendees. "Sustaining the current housing in the area helps with all the ideas you are presenting."

An informational meeting about that program will take place at 6 p.m. Dec. 17. For information, visit bit.ly/fordhomerepair.

Book Depository

Meanwhile, Ford has committed $2.5 million to the city's Affordable Housing Leverage Fund, which the city is using in its application for a Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If the city wins the competitive award, it would bring up to $30 million to invest in neighborhood revitalization.

That plan would bring 841 new units, mostly affordable and some market-rate, spread across four sites in Greater Corktown.

In terms of its workforce development commitment, Ford has contributed $500,000 out of a planned $1 million to Grow Detroit's Young Talent, a program providing paid summer jobs for Detroit youths. The contribution supported 391 youths from the city, including 106 from the project's impact area, the city reported.

The automaker also has made commitments to career technical education and training for adults, but much of that programming has been delayed due to the pandemic.

"The important thing here is this is not a Ford campus," said Mary Culler, Ford's development director for the project and president of the Ford Fund, of the project. "This is really about bringing others into the area so we can attract the best minds and talents to Detroit and create something that's really unique and innovative, and preserves the unique character and historic structures of this area.

"But most of all," she said, "we do believe it will bring economic opportunity and vitality."


Twitter: @JGrzelewski