Ford will make Michigan Central Depot a place for mobility innovators, disruptors

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ford Motor Co. has made progress on the redevelopment of the Michigan Central Depot, the centerpiece of its Corktown campus, an executive for the automaker said Wednesday during the Detroit Policy Conference.

Mary Culler, chief of staff for Ford Motor’s Office of the Executive Chairman and president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, gave an update on the automaker's $740 million campus project during a keynote address. The campus is integral to the company’s goal to tackle the challenges of changes in mobility.

Urban planners from California tour the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit.

“Congestion, air quality, community access and many other critical issues are waiting to be solved, and we are not waiting for anyone to save them for us," Culler said. "Our plan for the future is to open ourselves up to new ways of working. New partnerships and new offerings from scooters to shared rides to the portfolio of products you already know and love."

In June 2018, Ford Motor Co. announced it had purchased the long-vacant iconic train station that will eventually house 5,000 workers, including 2,500 from its mobility team when it opens in 2023.

"This will not be a typical development," Culler said. "This certainly won't be a typical corporate campus. This will be a vibrant, exciting open platform for partnerships, a place where mobility innovators and disruptors from around the world come to test and launch new products and services that serve tomorrow's transportation challenges."

An autonomous vehicle team with 250 members is already based at The Factory on Michigan Avenue and is testing autonomous vehicles in the area, Culler said. 

After about a year of redevelopment of the Michigan Central Depot, Ford is in the second of three phases to restore the building. The second phase includes masonry work on the building's tower, waiting room and concourse. Crews are repairing more than eight acres of exterior masonry and replacing 8,000 cubic feet of limestone.

Ford is working with the City of Detroit, trade unions and contractors on workforce training programs to build a pipeline of skilled trades. 

Culler said in a few months, more than 400 workers will be on-site each day doing roofing, plumbing, electrical work and masonry repairs.

Nearby, preconstruction work is underway on the Albert Kahn-designed former post office and book depository. When that opens in 2021, it will be a space for entrepreneurs, start-ups and companies developing and testing mobility solutions. 

"Frankly, while there has been a lot of attention on the station, I think the book depository is a really exciting building," Culler said.

Culler also said the automaker is looking to be a neighbor within Corktown while helping to create density in the neighborhood.  

“Density, connectivity and shared spaces is a huge consideration as we look at creating this innovation district,” she said.

“As many of you know, the density in Corktown is just not there. While we’re not trying to create a Midtown area, there definitely needs to be more vibrancy in this particular area. We’re going to be clustering the new buildings and public areas around the station.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN