The battle to lead the next generation of transportation involves risk. And Bill Ford Jr. said Wednesday that Ford Motor Co. was taking a big one by buying Michigan Central Depot.

"We're in a war for talent," the automaker's executive chairman said during a fireside chat at the fifth annual Crain Communications Detroit Homecoming event inside Little Caesars Arena. Ford and other automakers are fighting tech companies with pristine "campuses" on the West Coast to attract the technology-minded "talent" to drive Ford's next generation of products.

More: Ford wants $104M in tax incentives from Detroit

"Nobody could have (Michigan Central Station)," he said. "It is a little bit of a leap of faith to look at it now and then say in four years this is going to be amazing, but actually, it is going to be amazing."

Bill Ford joined Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and KC Crain, president and chief operating officer of Crain Communications, for a roughly half-hour chat about the plans for Detroit, the train station, and Ford's future.

Duggan said the city worked closely with Ford to make sure the company located a sprawling mobility campus in the city of Detroit.

"They could potentially gone to Ann Arbor, they could have gone out to the west cost," Duggan said. "I said 'Look, we'll move heaven and earth for you.'

"It is flipping our image around the world," Duggan said. 

Ford Motor Co. officially announced in June plans to build out room for 5,000 people to work in Michigan Central Depot by 2022. The automaker is preparing to begin the process of sealing the building from the elements, drying it out and replacing all the windows that had been installed by the former owners. 

Ford is also seeking $104 million in tax breaks from the city as part of the $250 million over 34 years through local, state, federal tax incentives the company has said it will seek to offset the cost of the Corktown project.

The automaker will spend $740 million in Detroit to create a new campus in Corktown. Spending there happens together with work the automaker is doing to redesign its Dearborn footprint on Michigan Ave. west of Detroit. 

Plans for the Corktown campus, to be announced Tuesday, would deliver 1.2 million square feet of mixed-use development spread over multiple parcels and at least three recently acquired buildings. Ford expects to move 2,500 of its employees — roughly 5 percent of its southeast Michigan workforce — to the campus, with space for an additional 2,500 entrepreneurs, technology companies and partners related to Ford's expansion into Autos 2.0.

"It's not just a building," Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. told The Detroit News in an interview at Ford World Headquarters in June. "It's an amazing building, but it's about all the connections to Detroit, to the suburbs, and the vision around developing the next generation of transportation."

Ford's presence in Corktown is intended to supplement — not replace — the automaker's Dearborn offices. Ford will use part of a pile of money set aside two years ago it had intended to spend in Dearborn to purchase and renovate Michigan Central.

The ground floor lobby of the 18-story, 500,000-square-foot building would be open to the public. That space could house markets, coffee shops, restaurants, retail and gathering spaces. The 18-story tower is expected to have offices as well as residential space on the top two floors.

"We should reinvent mobility here," Bill Ford said Wednesday. "Not in Silicon Valley."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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