Central Depot's ongoing revival to host Halloween festivities

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — A large group of planners from California recently gathered outside the iconic Michigan Central Depot. They all were big-time professionals, but on that day, they were the train station fan club.

Their excitement was palpable.

Staring up at the exterior's top floors, they giggled as they entered and attentively listened to a Ford Motor Co. employee describe the $350 million makeover that will transform the former eyesore into the shining star of the company’s Corktown campus by 2022.

They quietly strolled through the main floor, almost in reverence, and could not stop thanking the employees for the tour.

“It happens all the time,” said Richard Bardelli, Ford's construction manager for the project. “We get requests from all over from groups who want to see what the old train station looks like now.”

And it’s not just out-of-towners.

The train station is anchored in the hearts of many locals, including a Ford employee who recently transformed the lobby into a romantic venue so he could propose. The Detroit Youth Choir, which took second place on “America’s Got Talent,” even rehearsed inside the station.

The depot is in phase two of three of its rebirth, after having almost a half-million gallons of water pumped out. Planning work is underway on the book depository building next door, and they’ve just completed the demolition of the former Lincoln brass factory on Rosa Parks Boulevard, according to Bardelli.

“Ford has made significant progress over the past 12 months in the restoration of Michigan Central Station,” he said.  "... We’re thankful for the hard work, dedication and collaboration of our multiple contract teams that are working with us on these projects. Throughout, we’ve continued to engage with the community to keep them abreast of our plans and seek their feedback.”

Halloween decorations are prepared for the haunted house at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Corktown.

On Halloween, although ghosts and goblins won’t be able to go inside the train station because of on-going construction, the auto company is treating them to three separate nearby events.

The free happenings take place between 4-8 p.m., and they include a Haunted House at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center at 2826 Bagley St.; storytelling every 30 minutes beginning at 4 p.m. at Michigan Central Information Center at 1907 Michigan Ave.; and Trunk or Treat, which includes, candy, games, cider and doughnuts on Vernor Highway, between the Ford Resource and Engagement Center and Michigan Central Station. 

“The Ford Resource and Engagement Center has held a Haunted House/Halloween party for kids in the neighborhood for several years,” Ford spokeswoman Christina Twelftree said. “However, the trunk or treat walking tour along Vernor Highway to Michigan Central Station and the storytelling at our new Information Center on Michigan Avenue are new this year.”

On a recent afternoon, a room inside the Ford Resource and Engagement Center was being transformed into a haunted house.

A towering ghost will greet visitors at the entrance, while once inside the almost-completely darkened haunted house, a spine-chilling voice screams, “Help! Let me out! Can anyone hear me? It’s so dark in here. Sooooo dark!”

A few steps further inside, one can barely make out a formal dining table set for skeleton guests in pirate hats, with a skull candelabra among the decorations. The Mona Lisa portrait on the wall, upon closer inspection, actually is another skeleton.

“Ford has a legacy of investing in events that celebrate and bring our city and our region together,” said Pamela Alexander, director of community development for the Dearborn automaker. “We are excited to continue our Halloween events around Michigan Central and offer expanded activities for trick-or-treaters and their families.”

Workers walk through the atrium inside the Michigan Central Depot.

Corktown residents say Ford is fitting right in.

Giles Simmer, 35, originally from Georgia, is the acting president of the Corktown Neighborhood Association and has lived there for 10½ years. She said the motor company is a good neighbor.

“I think they’ve been doing a pretty good job with the very difficult task they’ve set for themselves,” she said.

Debra Walker, 66, has lived in Corktown for 15 years and said Ford, so far, “has done everything they said they would do in the time frame.”

She noted "they created a newsletter in both English and Spanish, and it is sent out to residents on a quarterly basis. They also opened an information center for the public with interactive displays. They’ve really reached out to include the community, as opposed to coming in and intruding.”

Meanwhile, back at the train station, work continues.

Twelftree said the overall investment for Ford’s Corktown development is $740 million, of which $350 million is the cost to renovate Michigan Central Depot, including the building and land purchase, building exterior and interior restoration and infrastructure rehabilitation costs to restore the building to historic standards."

Twelftree says the second phase of construction “focuses on fixing the steel structure and repairing the extensive masonry on the tower, waiting room and concourse.”

She said restoration is a three-phase process. The first phase began in December and involved winterizing, drying out and securing the building.

“Workers will spend the next two to three years removing bricks to fix the steel framework that sits behind, then cleaning and replacing the damaged terracotta, limestone and brick that make up the station’s exterior,” she said. “Scaffolding has already gone up on the west side of the building to facilitate the masonry repairs. The final phase entails finishing and restoring the interior to get it ready for tenants.”

When Ford’s Corktown development is complete, it will bring 5,000 new jobs to the area, half with Ford and half with their partners.

“I think this will be an opportunity for the community to come back and enjoy it, so when the doors open again, it will be a real boost to the city and part of its revitalization,” Twelftree said.