Finley: Sell train station or tear it down
There are few places in Detroit I detest more than the Michigan Central train station.
The rotting hulk has scarred Detroit’s skyline for 30 years, standing as a tribute to the abandonment that nearly ruined this city.
I’ve long argued that as long as this ghoulish edifice sits there empty and blighted, Detroit’s comeback will remain uncertain. It is by far the toughest redevelopment challenge.
Bringing the train station down or bringing it back to life will be the signature event in the city’s turnaround, proof that this revival has reached the point of inevitability, and that from here on nothing is impossible.
It will also signal Detroit has stopped clinging to its past, stopped revering the obsolete remainders of an era that will never return, and is focused instead on building a city that makes sense for its future.
That’s why it is critical that the deal get done to sell the station to Ford Motor Co., which wants to rehabilitate it to house its rapidly expanding mobility team. Already, Ford is moving 220 employees from Dearborn to the nearby Factory building.
Ford wants to make a big play in Corktown, the place where the Ford family ancestors once settled.
The automaker has the will and the resources to remake the Michigan Central Station. Renovating the massive building will almost certainly cost as much or more as constructing new offices on the acres of empty ground that surround the depot.
But Ford wants to do something important in Detroit, and this project surely fits the bill.
All that stands in the way is getting the Moroun family, which has owned the station since 1995, to sell it. Matty Moroun has never had a credible vision for putting the station back to use.
Grand plans have surfaced now and then, but they mostly seemed aimed at getting critics off the Morouns’ backs. They best they’ve done, at the urging of Mayor Mike Duggan, is replace the windows, restore an elevator and secure the building against urban explorers and the homeless.
This should be the end of the Morouns stringing along Detroit. Ford has a real plan. And a real commitment. The automaker will not try to steal the building; the family can count on a fair price.
And Detroit is counting on them to sell it and let the long delayed revival begin.
If this plan doesn’t come to fruition, if the Morouns refuse to cooperate, it should be the end of the line for Michigan Central. Detroit has reached the point where it can no longer tolerate speculators holding onto decrepit structures that hold back the city’s progress.
If the Morouns won’t sell, and if they won’t rehab Michigan Central themselves, the city should use its building code to make their obstinance very expensive. Paper it with violation tickets.
There is nothing sacred about Michigan Central. It’s served too long, as I’ve written before, as some sort of hipster Stonehenge.
It was once a marvelous structure — I’ve been inside it when it was still glorious — but it would not be a crime against the architectural gods should the wrecking ball slam into its side.
Barring that, the city should sell Ford Roosevelt Park, which sits in front of Michigan Central, and let the company build a new office building, hopefully tall enough to blot out the view of the depot.
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