Ford Unveils Site Plan for Michigan Central, Plans to Add Building and Mobility Platform

At a community meeting Tuesday night, Ford Motor Co. officials revealed the site plan for Michigan Central, the former train station west of downtown Detroit, along with neighboring properties, that the automaker is redeveloping into an innovation hub centered on next-generation technologies like mobility on demand and autonomous vehicles.
Michigan Central campus
The illustration of the Michigan Central campus shows the train station (middle), a new building at the bottom of the image (translucent), the Book Depository (right of the train station,), and the mobility platform (also right of the station). Courtesy of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

At a community meeting Tuesday night, Ford Motor Co. officials revealed the site plan for Michigan Central, the former train station west of downtown Detroit, along with neighboring properties, that the automaker is redeveloping into an innovation hub centered on next-generation technologies like mobility on demand and autonomous vehicles.

Ford officials state the multiyear development, including the restoration of the Michigan Central Station at Michigan Avenue and 14th Street, is on track to open in early 2023.

The site plan, developed by lead architect and strategic planner Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, envisions a walkable community, anchored by the train station. It will prioritize the needs of residents and businesses, as well as the 5,000 employees (half from Ford and half made up of suppliers and mobility-related companies) who will work there, connect with the surrounding neighborhoods and city, and preserve the history of the area with a mix of old and new.

Four key buildings make up the development – Michigan Central Station; the Book Depository, which sits just east of the station and is being revitalized into a maker space by architecture firm Gensler; Building West, a new construction to the west of the station; and The Factory, already home to 250 members of Ford’s autonomous vehicle business unit.

Central to the plan is a first-of-its-kind mobility platform on the elevated train tracks behind the station, with new open spaces throughout that connect site buildings and welcome the community.

The site plan is the result of a community-based 18-month research and planning process and reflects more than 100 hours of discussions between Ford and key stakeholders from the city and community.

In June 2018, Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, announced plans to restore Detroit’s once world-class train station, abandoned since 1988, as well as the neighboring Book Depository Building (originally Roosevelt Warehouse), and neighboring land, buildings, and new structures into a 30-acre campus for innovators, startups, entrepreneurs, and other partners from around the world to develop, test, and launch new mobility solutions on real-world streets, in real-world situations.

“This project is about preparing Ford for another century of innovation and success,” says Mary Culler, Detroit development director at Ford and president of the Ford Fund. “At Michigan Central, we are taking a collaborative approach to innovation, including providing flexible workspaces that attract and engage the best minds to solve complex transportation and related challenges as we shape the future of mobility together.”

Driven by feedback from residents, the plan calls for more public amenities, green spaces, walking and biking trails, public art, and open areas that can be activated and used in all-weather conditions.

It ensures the station’s views will not be blocked and that Southwest Detroit residents can easily access and enjoy the district, a key ask from the community. The site plan meets Detroit’s goal to develop walkable neighborhoods, full of quality retail, open space, amenities, and multimodal transit options within 20 minutes. To foster vibrancy and density, the plan envisions a range of housing options alongside new public amenities like a grocery store and day care facility.

Michigan Central Station sits at the nexus of four Detroit neighborhoods – Corktown, North Corktown (Briggs), Mexicantown, and Hubbard-Richard, as well as West Side Industrial and Millenium Village.

Ford’s site plan sees the station acting as a gateway to these neighborhoods through the mobility platform, multiple outdoor plazas, open spaces, and improved streets as well as linking to downtown Detroit and the riverfront.

The Vernor viaduct west of the station will provide a key access point from the south, transforming a closed section of Vernor Highway into a pedestrian path that welcomes residents of Mexicantown and southwest Detroit.

Michigan Central also will be a node on the state of Michigan’s proposed connected and autonomous vehicle corridor along Michigan Avenue running from Detroit to Dearborn to Ann Arbor (including part of Washtenaw Avenue), linking the district to a broader regional network of testing, research, and innovation. Ford is one of the founding partners of this groundbreaking project, working with Cavnue in New York City (Google is a sister company) and other collaborators.

“Over time, I am confident that this project will become a global model for how to grow and build our cities while celebrating the narratives and structures that define our past,” says Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder and creative director of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism.

The Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository will become the industrial center of the district, reimagined by Gensler as a mixed-use maker space, offering co-working areas, hands-on labs, and innovation studios. With built-in flexibility and choice as a cornerstone for the design, its large floor plans will spur connection as tenants create, learn, and collaborate.

Just outside, an exterior plaza and café will connect the building and the street. A new main entrance in the northwest corner of the building will welcome visitors to a seamless pedestrian walkway that links the north, south, and east entrances, and connects with adjacent buildings and open spaces.

On the upper floors, a central four-story atrium will spread light through the large floor plans. The crown jewel of the restoration is the rooftop, which offers stunning views of Michigan Central Station, Detroit, the riverfront, and Canada. Best-in-class amenities will support year-round enjoyment of the rooftop space for tenants and guests.

“The revitalized building is designed to meet the demands of a shifting hybrid workforce – tenants with high expectations when it comes to shared amenities, access to wellness resources, and opportunities for connection,” says Lily Diego, design director at Gensler’s Detroit office. “The interiors will be highly flexible, adaptable, and versatile, where anything from walls and panels to furniture and fixtures can be flipped, moved, or repurposed to support a multiplicity of uses so workers can most effectively engage with the space and one another.”

Ford will transform a set of abandoned elevated railroad tracks into a mobility platform – an open, versatile landscape where Ford and its innovation partners can test and showcase emerging technology, including autonomous vehicles and micro-mobility initiatives. It will also provide shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists and gathering spaces for the community, reconfigurable for a variety of uses.

Boston landscape architect Mikyoung Kim Design, working with Detroit-based livingLAB, has been tapped to design the mobility platform and other open spaces around Michigan Central as active places for programming and natural spaces for respite and reflection – all of which serve to unify the buildings with the public realm and embed Ford’s site into the neighborhood.

“Great landscapes should tell stories and build bridges between communities,” says Mikyoung Kim, founder of Mikyoung Kim Design. “We are going to create a 21st century civic center with smart streets and multimodal connectivity that pushes the boundaries of innovation, while being a restorative and welcoming place for all Detroiters.”

East of the station, Ford will build a parking garage and mobility hub at 14th and Bagley that provides 1,250 parking spots for Michigan Central workers and serves the community with a pedestrian-oriented streetscape and new public amenities.

The building’s irregular shape maximizes sunlight and will offer vistas for walkers and bike riders along the future greenway connecting to the new riverfront development at Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, bounded by the Detroit River, Eighth Street, Jefferson Avenue, and Rosa Park Boulevard. Then park likely will be completed in 2023.

The Bagley Parking Hub will enhance street life through exterior artwork, two new public plazas, green spaces, and a tree canopy. Public amenities being explored include free Wi-Fi, outdoor seating, drinking fountains, restrooms, bike storage, and public parking on evenings and weekends. The tech-enabled environment will offer electric charging, smart parking and payment systems, space utilization sensors, and smart lockers.

It will be constructed with a focus on stormwater management, health, and wellbeing, and promote the area’s natural ecology.

The parking structure will also serve as a mobility hub, offering micro-mobility solutions like e- bikes and scooters. A shuttle service to move workers and goods within the mobility innovation district may also support residents living in the impact area.

Work on the Book Depository and Bagley Parking Hub will begin in the first quarter of 2021, with both buildings expected to open in early 2022.

Michigan Central Station is currently in the middle of phase two of the restoration, the most labor-intensive part of the project. The work by Christman Co., Ideal Group, and other contractors includes fixing the steel structure and repairing eight acres of masonry. Ford is still on track to complete the station by the end of 2022.

“We have tremendous momentum, despite the pandemic, as we work with others to bring our vision to life in Corktown,” says Culler. “Through purposeful planning, design, and partnerships, we will be inspiring innovation by promoting interaction between our employees, partners, tenants, and the broader community. The goal is to work with innovators who want to join us in creating something truly unique that brings renewed opportunities, sustainability and vitality to the area.”

To read DBusiness magazine’s cover story on the transformation of Michigan Avenue into a dedicated roadway for connected vehicles, visit here.

For more information about Michigan Central, visit