Dearborn’s Ford Motor Co. Begins First Phase of Construction at Michigan Central Station


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Ford has begun renovation on Michigan Central Station. The first steps are to dry the building and prevent further water damage.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn Tuesday announced it began renovation of Michigan Central Station, the centerpiece of its to-be Corktown mobility campus. The first phase of the four-year project includes stabilizing the structure and winterizing the building to dry it out and prevent further water damage.

“The building has been open to the elements for years, so the work being done first is mainly internal, weatherizing, and making the building stable,” says Mary Culler, Detroit development director for Ford. “Come spring, things will become more visible to the community. And it’s not just physical construction happening; behind the scenes, we are designing and planning an urban ecosystem built around the future of mobility.”

The station was abandoned in 1988 and has sustained decades of damage from rain and freeze-thaw effect, creating cracks and holes in the masonry. The structure also soaked up water, and steps are being are be taken to dry out the building, assess the damage, and plan for repairs and restoration. Leaving the building exposed through another winter would accelerate damage.

Plywood and tarpaulin will be used to cover open windows and exterior holes on the roof of the 600,000-square-foot structure. Pumps will be installed in the basement to prevent further flooding, and fans will circulate air through the building. Natural ventilation and evaporation are the best way to dry out the building, as rapid heating systems could cause harm to historic features.

“The building is very lucky Ford stepped in when it did,” says Ronald D. Staley, executive director of the Christman-Brinker joint venture selected as the construction manager for the project. “It would have been a lot more difficult, maybe impossible, five-10 years down the road to salvage. The first year is going to be primarily about doing core and shell work, getting the building stabilized, concrete and steel fixed, and the building enclosed.”

The drying will take about six months for the majority of the structure. After, the second phase will begin, which involves replacing mechanical and electrical systems and restoring the exterior masonry. The station is comprised of eight acres of masonry, and certain aspects of repair and restoration can only be done in good weather.

The final phase will finish the interior by restoring plaster and other decorative pieces. Ford plans to use 3-D printing to create the molds and mockups required to replicate the many historic elements. Ultimately, Ford plans to return the grand hall of the station to its original grandeur and attract local shops and restaurants. It also will create office space.

More visible signs of the construction will begin next summer when scaffolding goes up and an exterior construction lift is added to the east end of the station. The masonry work is expected to take three summers.

The company is working with the Urban Land Institute, a national nonprofit urban planning and real estate education and research institution, to provide strategic advice on the project’s development. The Urban Land team is touring sites in Corktown, including the station, and conducting interviews with stakeholders from Ford, the city of Detroit, local businesses, civic organizations, and residents.

Urban Land Institute’s land use and urban planning experts will provide independent and unbiased recommendations through an advisory services panel process on how to connect pieces of the development project across the campus to create a holistic ecosystem.

“For them to come in and share their knowledge, with experts from all over the world who have worked on similar projects, is really beneficial for us,” says Culler. “We’re anxious to hear what they have to say. They’re a renowned organization that can help us think through strategic parts of this momentous four-year project.”

Ford acquired the train station in June and plans to transform it and its surrounding properties into a 1.2-million-square-foot innovation campus for autonomous and electric vehicle creation as well as urban mobility services and solutions. The project will bring about 2,500 Ford employees to Corktown, most from the mobility team, and an additional 2,500 jobs with Ford’s partners and suppliers.

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