On Monday, the Downtown Detroit Partnership unveiled a new granite plaza showcasing Detroit’s Point of Origin and marked the 15th anniversary of the groundbreaking for Campus Martius Park.
Edsel B. Ford II, a board member of Ford Motor Co. who was honored during the ceremony for his role as past chairman of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, the nonprofit that built Campus Martius Park, said the automaker’s board had been briefed on a proposal where the company would seek to acquire the vacant Michigan Central Depot at Michigan Avenue and 14th Street in Corktown.
In recent months, the automaker has been reviewing plans to acquire the depot, vacant for three decades, and neighboring properties in Corktown to center its autonomous, electric, and connected vehicle programs.
“There’s Ts to cross and i’s to dot and nothing is, as you know, officially announced yet,” Ford said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take to redevelop all of that if we did buy the building. But it seems to me that the building is in somewhat disrepair, so we would have to spend some time and effort and redo it all.”
Ford’s board is expected to review plans to establish a research campus in Corktown at its next meeting on May 10. Last year, the automaker acquired The Factory along Michigan Avenue, near Trumbull Avenue, and is in the process of moving around 220 employees into the two-building complex, including its Project Edison team.
The 13-story, 500,000-square-foot train station, built in 1913 and owned by Manual “Matty” Moroun, has undergone a partial renovation over the last two years, including the installation of hundreds of windows, a freight elevator, and electrical service.
During the unveiling of the Point of Origin, located just in front of the Parc restaurant in Campus Martius Park, Ford said the urban square has been a major catalyst in the ongoing redevelopment of the central business district.
“I have always believed that the difference between a mediocre community and a great one is measured entirely by the level of pride each individual has within it,’’ said Ford. “Campus Martius Park has exceeded all expectations. It stands as a witness to who we are as Detroiters. A place where we can gather and celebrate all that our community offers.”
The Point of Origin was set in 1806 following a massive fire that consumed Fort Detroit on June 11, 1805 (where today sits the 150 W. Jefferson Building at Shelby Street). Most residents in Detroit lived inside the fort, which had been built in 1701 by the city’s founder, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and a regiment of 100 men. Over the years, the fort had been rebuilt.
Following the fire, it took Judge Augustus B. Woodward more than a year to design a new street system, much of which is intact today. It was at what is now Campus Martius Park, by an Act of Congress, that the town would be measured from an equilateral triangle, each side measuring 4,000 feet.
The basis for the starting point of the Point of Origin was 84 feet, 10 ¼ inches from the northwest corner of the home of Charles Curry.
While the layout of the streets was said to mimic Washington, D.C. and Paris, it was an original design that was altered over time so that it became unique to Detroit. For example, Woodward’s original plan showed a Michigan Grand River Avenue that ran due west from Jefferson Avenue through Woodward and eventually connecting with Lake Michigan (today Michigan Avenue starts at Woodward).
“By design, Campus Martius Park has become the center of downtown Detroit’s vibrancy,’’ said Eric Larson, CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “(We are) proud to steward the park’s vision that continues to propel our city forward and (we are) incredibly grateful for visionaries like Edsel Ford.”
Under the leadership of Ford, the Detroit 300 Conservancy was charged by then Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer with creating a world-renowned gathering space in the heart of the city. During the park’s construction, the original Point of Origin marker was unearthed. Campus Martius Park officially opened to the public in November 2004.