Bill Ford Jr.: 'We came together, Ford and Detroit'

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Thousands gathered in Roosevelt Park immediately north of Michigan Central Depot Tuesday to hear Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. tell Detroit what he plans to do with the long-vacant building.

He received a standing ovation before he could get a word in.

"We came together, Ford and Detroit," he said. "We've stumbled together, too. But whenever anybody writes us off, we come together, get to work and we write a new chapter."

Tuesday marked Ford's official public confirmation that it had indeed purchased the building with plans to renovate the 18-story landmark by 2022 to anchor a new Corktown campus for its future-facing mobility, autonomy and electrification teams. And for some, Ford's plans could mark the first real expansion of large private investment outside of downtown or midtown in Detroit.

Detroit rapper Big Sean, who had  never seen the train station active in his lifetime, said as much: "For as long as I can remember this train station has been abandoned," the Cass Tech graduate said after a short performance. "This marks the first time that the whole renaissance we’ve seen downtown” make its way into the neighborhoods."

Ford Motor Company chairman Bill Ford Jr. speaks about Ford's investment in the former train station. “Ford’s investment in Corktown is anything but symbolic,” he said, adding that ⁦Ford⁩ intends the train station site to be for the 21st century what Ford’s Highland Park Plant was for the 20th.

Ford's plans for Corktown are big. The company would create a 1.2-million-square-foot campus for its own employees as well as partners and private business. The lobby of the station will house public gathering spaces, restaurants, retail and markets. 

For Ford, the Corktown investment is an investment in the company's future, which it's betting is built on autonomous vehicles.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett commeded Bill Ford Jr. for taking that risk. He allowed the automaker the chance to “prove mobility. To prove how it works,” Hackett said.

Hackett added the Corktown plans won’t replace Ford’s plans for Dearborn.  “Make sure you hear that,” he said. 

In fact, Corktown ensures the future of Dearborn, he added.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the single best phone call he received as mayor was Dec. 24, when Matthew Moroun called to tell him he planned to sell to Ford. Ford's presence would be a boon for the city and the region.

That's not lost on Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who said “The Michigan Avenue corridor is in my mind the one corridor that needs help more than any of the others.”

He noted the Corktown development will connect Detroit and Dearborn. 

“Oakland County got it for a while, now we’re bringing it home,” Evans said. 

Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly  stood just a few rows from the stage, his assigned seat behind Ford executives in the first row for government officials. 

He said Ford’s plan for Corktown could be a boon for Dearborn and the stretch of Michigan Avenue that connects the two communities. 

His childhood home was in Corktown. Later, he moved to Dearborn on the western Detroit border. 

“That’s been my dream for a long time,” he said. “That’s what I grew up with. That’s the way we revitalize these communities.”

Part of the estimated $1 billion it plans to invest in its Dearborn campus will be used to fund the Corktown plan.

People gather outside the Michigan Central Depot before Ford Motor Co. rolls out details of overhauling the former train station

That’s fine, O'Reilly  said. He’s not trying to hoard business in Dearborn. He’s trying to help boost the region. 

“Everybody wins,” he said. “This is regional. We sink or swim based on what we do as a broad community.”

Harriet Sturkey, a lifelong Detroit resident, said she used to ride the train to California from the depot with her uncle. 

She declined to give her age, but said she’s “over 50.” The resident of downtown Detroit said Tuesday that this had different feeling than other development announcements in the city. 

Standing just right of the stage that had been erected in front of the depot, Sturkey felt confident Ford could save the building. "Ford’s got it,” she said. “It’ll be OK.” 

More:Stolen Detroit depot clock needed to 'go home'

More:Project C: Inside Ford's deal to save old train station

More:The man behind the depot deal

More:How Ford plans to resurrect the train station

More: A celebration, not an implosion, at Michigan Central Depot

Ford Motor Company employees gather at the Michigan Central Depot as volunteers for the announcement on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 that Ford will redevelop the iconic Detroit structure. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

The company plans to offer free tours of the depot this weekend.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau