Detroit must gear up for Ford's Corktown boom

The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is not just coming back to Detroit, it's roaring back with a plan that should exponentially leapfrog the city's revival.

The details, released to The Detroit News and other media outlets for publication today, exceed all expectations of what Ford had in mind for the Corktown neighborhood on the west edge of downtown.

5,000 jobs will be brought to a new Corktown campus that will include the Michigan Central Depot.

The investment will fundamentally transform the city. 

Some highlights:

  • 5,000 jobs will be brought to a new Corktown campus that will include the Michigan Central Depot, the recently retrofitted Factory Building and the book repository building next to the train station. The workforce will concentrate on mobility, autonomy and electrification.
  • A total of 1.2 million sq. ft. of new development is planned, and may include residential space and perhaps a hotel. Ford is encouraging other developers, including Bedrock's Dan Gilbert, to participate in fill-in projects in the neighborhood.

Ford intends to lease out space to other businesses and hopes its vendors and suppliers will follow it into Corktown. 

The automaker will restore the once magnificent lobby of the train station and make it available as a public space. 

This is not a slow build-out: The targeted completion date is 2022 — just four years away. 

It will be a lot for Detroit to absorb in such a short time. 

The city must gear up to clear away as much red tape as possible in issuing permits and making zoning changes where necessary.

Ford intends to seek the same sort of tax breaks as Gilbert did for his Hudson site and Monroe block developments. The city and state will have to work together on moving the request.

Transportation must be addressed. The Detroit Department of Transportation and the SMART bus system must collaborate on providing non-stop service along Michigan Avenue between Corktown and Ford's facilities in Dearborn.

Again, the Corktown development will be unfolding along the same timeline as Bedrock's major projects downtown, as well as the Ilitch family's ongoing work on The District surrounding the new Little Caesar's Arena.

Contractors are already straining to handle existing projects. Job training must be accelerated to an almost war-mobilization pace. 

If qualified local workers can't be found, the developers and the city must be prepared to recruit nationally.

Add in the possibility that construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge may soon start, and it's likely Detroit's resources will be strained to the breaking point.

There's a boom coming to Detroit unlike anything that's been seen since the 1920s.

Detroit has to get ready to handle it, and get ready in a hurry.