Michigan Central in Detroit Hires CEO, Launches Public Art Initiative

Michigan Central, the emerging mobility innovation district in Detroit’s Corktown district that’s being developed by Ford Motor Co. and multiple partners, has named Joshua Sirefman as its new CEO.
Joshua Sirefman was announced today as the new CEO of Michigan Central. // Courtesy of Michigan Central
Joshua Sirefman was announced today as the new CEO of Michigan Central. // Courtesy of Michigan Central

Michigan Central, the emerging mobility innovation district in Detroit’s Corktown district that’s being developed by Ford Motor Co. and multiple partners, has named Joshua Sirefman as its new CEO.

Sirefman will work to advance the vision for the district and execute a plan that leverages placemaking, cross-sector collaboration, and real estate development to promote innovation and inclusion.

Ford announced plans to restore the Michigan Central train station at Michigan Avenue and 14th Street in 2018 as the centerpiece of a 30-acre open innovation platform to help define the way people and goods move around in the future. The once world-class station built in 1913 had been abandoned since 1988.

In addition to the renovation of the train station, set to open in 2023 as a mixed-use project of offices, retail outlets, a boutique hotel, and community and educational offerings, the Michigan Central campus includes the neighboring Book Depository building, The Factory, The Exchange, a mobility testing platform, and landscaped plazas.

The Book, located just east of the train station, is set to open this summer as a mobility innovation hub and maker space, while The Factory at Michigan and Rosa Parks Boulevard (12th Street) opened four years ago and now is occupied by around 250 Ford employees working on mobility solutions.

The Exchange is multi-faceted parking structure and mobility center that is under construction south of The Book that is scheduled to open this summer. Overall, around 5,000 people will work at the Michigan Central campus, which, as a district, offers 1.2 million square feet of commercial public space.

A veteran of mobility innovation, tech, and urban planning and development, Sirefman, 54, will lead the physical development of the district as well as an Innovation Services Business that includes overseeing the innovation agenda set by founding members that include Ford, Google, and other public-private partners.

The co-founder and former president of New York City-based Sidewalk Labs, Sirefman will identify and recruit new talent to the district and coordinate governance and reporting — all to enable sustained innovation activity.

“Joshua is the perfect fit to lead the development of Michigan Central,” says Mary Culler, chief of staff to Ford executive chair Bill Ford and president of Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund. “His experience in mobility, developmental planning, and community engagement — which was especially important to us — will be key to helping guide the district’s team and partners along the path to meaningful innovation that truly helps in creating a more accessible future for all.”

Sirefman also served as Sidewalk Labs’ head of development and, most recently, senior advisor. His experience spans urban planning, commercial, technology and government in public, private, institutional, and nonprofit sectors.

Prior to creating Sidewalk Labs, founded as an Alphabet company focused on urban innovation, Sirefman started Sirefman Ventures, a development services firm that leads transformative projects for corporate, nonprofit, and government entities.

The firm led Cornell University’s successful bid in a competition held by the city of New York to attract a new applied sciences graduate program to the city and helped lead the development of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Sirefman also has served as a key member of the economic development team of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and oversaw development in the United States for Brookfield Properties.

“Like all things, the best ideas in mobility come from diverse perspectives and I firmly believe Michigan Central is uniquely positioned to both catalyze such ideas and support the long-term vitality of Detroit,” says Sirefman.

“I see this incredible asset — Michigan Central — and the work developed and piloted here living at the nexus of physical, social, and economic mobility. As an open platform welcoming all to break new boundaries in innovation across all three fronts, we have an exciting opportunity to be a world-leading place of impact starting with Detroit communities and extending outward.”

Michigan Central will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Co. With Ford’s oversight, the newly created Michigan Central Innovation District LLC will manage operations and support core initiatives of the 30-acre district. Primary areas of focus include strategy and planning, business development, innovation services, and mobility partnerships.

Sirefman also will help oversee Michigan Central’s newly established philanthropic arm, Michigan Central Foundation, that will provide charitable and educational training, programming and research for residents, students, and businesses in the area, as well as science activities.

Additionally, he will manage the business association that sets the innovation agenda of the district’s partners, supporting their projects and execution as they work toward collective mobility goals. The association will inspire the partners and the innovations they create, while also attracting new partners to Michigan Central and aligning public resources to achieve their shared goals.

Michigan Central recently announced Google and Ford as the first founding members of the district. Along with additional founding members, they will be part of a diverse group of companies at Michigan Central collaborating on products, services, and experiences that will help define the future of mobility.

Michigan Central also recently launched a public-private partnership with the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit focused on economic, workforce, and community development and the designation of a Transportation Innovation Zone within the district, a first of its kind in the Midwest.

The zone will be a place where companies of all sizes can pilot technologies in a safe, real-world environment thanks to improved and expedited review and approval processes with city administration.

A native of New York, Sirefman has a history of city-building in Detroit. He created and operated a program through Islandview Village Development Corp., a nonprofit community redevelopment organization that transformed a declining industrial corridor into a model urban industrial area while encouraging job growth and economic development.

He also co-designed citywide grassroots industrial retention programs as a member of Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

Restoration of Michigan Central Station, the anchor building of the innovation district, is set for completion in 2023. Innovation already underway includes pilots in development such as an app that helps visually impaired people navigate complicated urban landscapes in response to community needs, programs to support electrification of commercial fleets, plus rethinking how goods move on the first and last 50 feet of their journey.

In addition, Michigan Central is partnering in a study to explore the feasibility of creating commercial drone testing corridors, and in a pilot project to make Michigan the first U.S. state to implement a public wireless electric vehicle charging system on a public road.

In related news, Michigan Central has announced the first public request for proposals open to all Detroit-based artists and artists teams to bid on site-specific public art commissions for installation at three key locations at The Exchange, formerly known as the Bagley Mobility Hub.

Seeking artists to engage diverse and multi-generational audiences, the first public call encourages artists to explore the past, present, and future of mobility, showcasing how art can impact, enliven, and tell the stories of the surrounding community that connects the people of Detroit to the world.

Local artists and artists teams are asked to submit proposals for the following three opportunities, either together or in part:

  1. Bagley Street – The goal of this commission is to create a dynamic, expressive, and iconic lenticular artwork that cultivates connections between biophilia and movement. This opportunity spans 97’ at street level on Bagley Street.
  2. Water Cisterns – Scaling 40’ high, the ideal building wrap artwork for these structures will tell the story of transformation and purposeful integration with the landscape and the surrounding neighborhoods.
  3. South Stairwell – This 6-story opportunity will house artwork applied to glass that connects new pathways in the building while creating energy, engagement, and interest both for the interior and the exterior.

Interested and eligible artists and artist teams are welcomed to apply between now and Feb. 28. Artists from Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, those with disabilities, or those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are encouraged to apply.

All submissions will be reviewed by the Michigan Central district’s Public Art project team and the Curatorial Advisory Board. Complete details of the open call, including eligibility, the selection process, and supporting resources provided to Aatists, are outlined in the full RFP posted on michigancentralart.com. It’s available in both English and Spanish.

As one of four key areas under development within the Michigan Central district, the vision for The Exchange is to create an innovative parking structure that serves the community of Detroit as an economic catalyst.

With a pedestrian-oriented streetscape, platforms for art presentation, and other public amenities, The Exchange, scheduled to be completed this summer, will be a state-of-the-art, tech-enabled mobility center offering 1,250 parking spots, an autonomous vehicle testing area, e-bike and e-scooter stations, electric charging, automated payment technology, and smart guidance systems.

A shuttle service to move workers and goods within the mobility innovation district may also support residents living in the impact area.