Community pitches ideas for train depot development

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Pop-up restaurants, a day-care center and a general store were among the ideas that technology entrepreneurs suggested for Ford Motor Co.'s redevelopment of the Michigan Central Station.

Young entrepreneurs brainstorm ideas Friday for how Ford should develop the Michigan Central Depot train station into a workspace that will entice people to want to work there.

Ford opened the doors of the long-vacant train station in Corktown on Friday for a daylong event focused on the potential uses for the first floor, which the automaker has previously said would be open to the public. Ford plans to transform the building as part of a 1.2-million-square-foot campus planned for the neighborhood.

Participants were invited through a partnership with Detroit-based nonprofit Venture Catalysts, a supporter of entrepreneurial events in the city. 

Shawn Wilson (standing), a manager with Ford Fund, engages a tableful of young entrepreneurs as they brainstorm ideas for 
 developing workspaces in the Michigan Central Depot train station, Friday.

"This is an opportunity to fully embed Ford and the community together," said Shawn Wilson, community engagement manager for the Ford Motor Co. Fund.

Among the 200 participants were John Ray, who said he imagines a space where people of all backgrounds have access to the station.

Sticky notes and building blueprints act as tools for young entrepreneurs brainstorming ideas.

“Being a native Detroiter and seeing how things have changed within the last five years or so, definitely making sure that it is an inclusive space for our kids and for people like myself who grew up and were born and raised in Detroit, making sure we have an active voice,” said Ray, a former educator and site director of the Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy at Wayne State University. “I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on what that true inclusive environment looks like.”

The workshop participants, not just Ford employees, are the types of people the company would like to see working in the depot, Dave Dubensky, Ford Land Chairman and CEO, told the group Friday.

The Dearborn automaker has previously said it plans to bring 2,500 people from its autonomous technology and electrification departments to Corktown; another 2,500 employees will arrive from startups and other partner companies.

Jennyfer Darling, a deployment specialist for Ford, acts as a facilitator for a tableful of young entrepreneurs brainstorming ideas for how Ford should develop the Michigan Central Depot train station into a workspace that will entice people to want to work there, August 17, 2018.

“From my perspective, this would be your home long-term,” Dubensky said. “We’ve got multiple floors that we would lease out. We would have different partners that would come in here and help us identify and develop technology of the future. I can’t think of a better group to listen to… I want to walk away with something we can actually program, so we when you see this space opened in 2022, somebody’s going to come back and say 'That was my idea.'”

Earlier this week, Ford announced it will spend as much as $740 million on the Corktown campus. The automaker also said it expects to seek $250 million over 34 years through local, state, federal tax incentives to offset the cost. 

Large poster boards of the first-floor layout hung in the lobby of the train station Friday after teams pitched their ideas. More than a dozen groups covered the boards with sticky notes scribbled with ideas, including utilizing solar panels and creating space for a library, art exhibits and concerts. 

Nikki Evelyn, a software developer for Detroit Labs, said she appreciates the beauty of the train station even in its current dilapidated state. Originally from Chicago, Evelyn learned about the building after she moved to Detroit five years ago.

Evelyn said that she would like to see the redeveloped space provide a way for children in the community to learn about technology.

“I’m super-excited to be able to have input on ideas for the space,” she said. “There are so many possibilities.”

Ray said he was excited when he heard the workshop would be held at the train station.

“I was excited to see the space,” he said. “My parents and grandparents talked about it a lot when they used to travel down South or have family come up. It’s good to be here and see what we’re trying to actually re-imagine.”

Young entrepreneurs brainstorming ideas Friday for how Ford should develop the Michigan Central Depot train station into an enticing workspace.

Twitter: CWilliams_DN