Ford aims to keep train station lobby open to public

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
The American flag is seen through the front entrance during the Detroit Homecoming Ceremony at Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, Michigan back in September, 2017. (file photo)

Ford Motor Co. wants to keep the cavernous, once-ornate lobby of Michigan Central Depot open to the public after it revives the vacant historic building, according to sources familiar with the automaker's plans.

The main waiting room of the former Detroit train station in Corktown is three stories high and meant to look like an ancient Roman bathhouse. Long gone are the marble floors, and the chandeliers that once hung from the 54-foot ceilings. Weather and scavengers have so thoroughly degraded the massive building that it's been the backdrop for apocalyptic films like “Transformers” and “The Island.”

Ford is not saying much about its plans. The company sent out invitations to a June 19 event, promising, "It will be a historic day for Detroit, the auto industry and the future of Ford – the start of a new era of innovation and mobility." The program which begins at 11 a.m.  will be open to the public, but space is limited.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan described Ford's train station plan as unprecedented. “Next week, you’re going to see a deal that’s unbelievable,” Duggan said Tuesday. He declined to offer more detail. 

The lobby of the Michigan Central Depot is seen during a Detroit Homecoming event in September of 2017. (file photo)

On Monday, the Dearborn automaker confirmed it bought the 18-story, 500,000-square-foot train depot. Numerous sources have said it will anchor a new Corktown campus that will serve as a hub for its self-driving and electric vehicle divisions. The last train left the depot in 1988. 

The company also confirmed Monday it purchased a former book depository building at 2231 Dalzelle St. near the train station. Other Corktown properties are still in play, multiple sources have said, and Ford is considering building a parking garage.  

Photos of the train station tour (file 2008)

Last month Ford relocated 220 workers to a Corktown building that it renamed The Factory, located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard. The facility is five blocks northeast of the former train station, at 2001 15th Street. 

There have been recent deals of at least 20 properties — mostly empty land — near The Factory, 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 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. 

Detroit News writer Christine Ferretti contributed.