By on March 20, 2018

A445,_Michigan_Central_Station,_Detroit,_Michigan,_United_States,_2016

Detroit’s skyline-defining riverfront Renaissance Center is better known to car enthusiasts as the RenCen, home to General Motors, which has owned the seven tower complex for more than 20 years. Less well known is the fact that the RenCen was the brainchild of Henry Ford II. Shocked by the aftermath of the 1967 riot that devastated many Detroit businesses, the Deuce, as Henry Ford’s grandson was known, saw the RenCen as means of revitalizing the city’s economy. Construction began in 1971 and the facility opened in the summer of 1976. By then, however, the domestic auto industry was hit with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo just as it was struggling to meet new federal emissions and safety standards. Car guys call it the “Malaise Era,” and it was the start of four decades of decline of the Motor City.

That decline, however, genuinely appears to have finally bottomed out. Class A commercial real estate is in high demand downtown and commercial development is spreading to other areas of the city. Unemployment in Wayne County, Detroit’s home, is down to just 4.5 percent, compared to 17.4 percent in 2009.

Now, almost 50 years after Henry Ford II envisioned the RenCen as reviving Detroit, comes word that the car company with his name over the door may well revive and restore one of the most iconic images of Detroit’s decline.

For years now, whenever lazy editors, photographers and videographers wanted to illustrate Detroit’s decline, they used images of either the old Packard plant on the east side or Michigan Central Depot in what is known as Corktown, originally inhabited by Irish immigrants from County Cork.

Michigan Central Depot is something that veritably defines “ruin porn.”  It opened in 1913, the same year Henry Ford started building the Model T on an assembly line, and it closed in 1988. A Google image search for that phrase puts the old train station on the first page of results. In 2009, Detroit’s city council ordered it to be torn down as a nuisance, but of late the depot’s owner, real estate investor Matty Maroun, has actually started renovating the imposing structure, replacing all of its windows and starting to restore some of the stone work.

The Detroit News reports Ford is negotiating to expand its presence in Corktown, where it recently opened a 225-employee facility in a former warehouse for “Team Edison” — the automaker’s more futurist-oriented business segments. Sources say the negotiations could include Michigan Central Depot as well as land surrounding the building and a nearby book depository. It is expected some kind of deal will be announced later this spring.

While the word depot evokes a small town railroad station, in fact Michigan Central is quite an imposing building, ruined or not. The tallest train station in the world, its 18 stories include over a half million square feet of floor space, mostly offices on the upper floors.

It’s not exactly clear how Ford would develop and use the building. Over the past decade Corktown has flourished, but its revival has been the result of bars, restaurants and small retail shops opening in the area, plus young people living there. That last point may be the key factor in Ford’s decision. Detroit automakers have had a challenge in attracting new young talent as technology becomes more and more important in the auto industry. A large corporate workforce would diversify Corktown’s economy, something said to be a healthy thing for any community.

The Ford family also has ties to the area. Henry Ford’s father was born in County Cork.

[Image Source: Wikimedia]

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54 Comments on “Ruin Porn No More? Ford Reportedly in Talks to Buy Michigan Central Depot...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’ve read about the MCT in the past (after seeing pictures of it on Shorpy). When it was built in 1913, it was out in the middle of nowhere, and was never fully utilized, because of the commute required just to get there. The owners first tried to sell the building way back in 1956, because there wasn’t enough business. There was never sufficient parking, and even in the late ’60s there were only two ticket windows.

    • 0 avatar
      Gail Bloxham

      It’s NOT in the middle of nowhere. But it is 20 blocks south of Detroit’s
      actual downtown. Hence… you are correct in that it was never going to be successful. Look at when it was built. Right at the beginning of the age of automobiles… in the city of automobiles… its viability was handwriting on the wall. I lived near it for years. Near the Cadillac factory at Clark and Michigan Ave (Verner & Clark) for almost five years.
      That train terminal was right nearby. It never made sense. Not from day one.
      Thomas Edison rode the train in from the north … from Port Huron… every day during the Civil War when he was a boy working as a passenger car attendant. The station on the north side of downtown was much closer to the business center.
      This 18 story station… built 50 years later…on the South side 20 blocks away from the business core served no real propose. Not even from the first day it opened. All this revitalization publicity is a smokescreen. Go there. Drive around the entire city. It can’t be saved. See for yourself.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Maybe, but any attempt or hope of some revitalization of Detroit is something to cheer about. I’ve got family ties to the city (on my wife’s side), and I’ve always secretly wished for the city to pull together. Not sure it’ll ever happen to the extent I wish it would…

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Agreed. I think cities like Detroit stand to gain a LOT of new residents from places like California or Colorado, which seem to be on a mission to price huge swaths of residents out of town.

          • 0 avatar
            baggins

            Freed

            Number one destination for people leaving Calif is Texas. Next biggest are Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. When people leaves CAlif, data shows that less than 10% go to the Midwest.

            Michigan, while recently improving over its dismal numbers of the last decade or two, is still a net out-migration state.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            This is true for people who still need to work.

            But for many people who have a source of income other than employment, or are otherwise independently wealthy, the final destination often is New Mexico, Colorado, Utah or Idaho.

            Plenty of land still available, at dirt cheap prices.

            Many people from the hi-tax Eastern seaboard are also moving to these locations. Not just people from CA.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Detroit had 1.85 million in 1950, and a metro population of 3.2 million. Today, Detroit has less than 800k, but the metro poulation is up to 4.3 million. The white city residents just moved to the suburbs, making Detroit majority black..

            As the city has demolished abandoned homes, developers have been buying up the vacant blocks. There will be a population increase in the city eventually, but the city government needs to get its act together.

            The auto industry could take advantage of the acres of vacant land by building plants and providing jobs. It’ll be up to the city itself to see that whites, hispanics, asians, and others are part of the influx, without further marginalizing the poor blacks who were forced to remain during the downward spiral.

            Detroit, like the South, will rise again, but not without grappling with difficult social, ethnic, political, and economic difficulties.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “Detroit, like the South, will rise again, but not without grappling with difficult social, ethnic, political, and economic difficulties.”

            It’s the social and ethnic issues that will present the greatest hurdles. Once White Flight has occurred it is rarely reversed.

            Prime examples were Atlanta, Birmingham, Huntsville, Houston and Los Angeles, CA.

            Even with plenty of good paying jobs to go around, the class/social/race distinctions always remain.

            I was born in Huntington Beach, CA, and my parents lived out their lives in Palos Verde.

            So I have fond memories of places that no longer exist today because they each morphed pretty much into a non-English speaking Barrio.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Well, what i meant was, when it was built (1913), it was in the middle of nowhere.

  • avatar

    Huge train stations outside of Grand Central in the America don’t seem to pan out. There’s just not enough utilization, and they become huge money sinks to maintain and end up in disrepair or abandoned.

    Cincinnati has one, and it’s called Union Terminal.

    • 0 avatar
      road_pizza

      And it’s BEAUTIFUL! Art Deco at its finest!

      • 0 avatar

        I agree entirely, it’s a lovely structure. But an IMAX theatre and two museums can’t even fill it or keep it afloat!

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          St. Louis did something similar with Union Station, and it’s been a bust for the most part. The problem is that the only thing you can fill these places up with is retail and/or office space, and no one’s looking for either in downtown St. Louis, or any other central city in the Rust Belt.

          But this place might work if they make it into housing. Looks like it’d be a pretty cool place to live if they did it up right.

          • 0 avatar

            They just need a sign on the side.

            NEW LUXURY LOFTS

            And watch the yuppies come runnin.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I’d be tempted if the price and neighborhood were right. That’s a really cool building.

          • 0 avatar
            el scotto

            Did real estate prices skyrocket after weed became legal? If so, I hope the uptight are having snits.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It started with the influx of growers, then everything, everyone related. They’re cashed up, paying whatever it takes, plus there’s renegade growers setting up in their basement/dens.

            Also there’s tourism support.

            The technology sector may be more to blame, depending on who you ask, others include mail-order/Amazon/Ebay related, but it’s still a bubble.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      Depends on where it is and what it does; hardly the case with Union Station in Washington, D.C., Union Station in L.A., or Union Station in Chicago. If there is still actual train traffic of any volume, be it Amtrak or commuter rail, restored train stations can fare very well in a mixed use capacity environment.

      The ones that don’t have train traffic like the Prime Osborne Center in Jacksonville, FL do go bust, even after being restored; there just isn’t a regular draw of people or activity to make them viable.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        All that means is that we need to push for more interstate passenger rail service. A train is much more comfortable and not all that much slower for a 600 mile trip when taking all the discomfort and waiting times you have to put up with in the airport terminals.

        … and it’s certainly more restful than driving that same trip, when you can take your car with you.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          The need to “push” for more rail should be telling. Buy a train ticket.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I have bought tickets. In fact, rail ridership has risen over the last several years but especially did so when gasoline prices shot up to near $4/gallon ($5/gallon in some locations) on many commuter routes but even on some long-distance routes.

            Last year, the Auto Train I rode pulled more car carriers than passenger cars… a full load for the trip I rode. Great dinner and breakfast and well rested for the remaining 100 miles or so of my trip.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The difference, I think, is that downtown St. Louis, or Detroit, or Cincinnati (or Jacksonville, for that matter) aren’t destinations that people want to come to for anything other than work or the occasional ballgame. I don’t know about downtown L.A., but central Chicago or D.C. would definitely qualify as “destinations.”

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Toronto over the past few years has spent a huge amount of money, refurbishing its Union Station. Located right in the centre of the downtown core, it is busy all day, with commuter trains (GO Transit), passenger trains (Via Rail), buses, and a direct link to the subway (TTC). It also has an enclosed walkway to the Convention Centre, the ACC (home of the Leafs and Raptors) and a link to The Path an underground walkway/shopping mall linked to most of the bank towers in the downtown core.

          A major problem with passenger trains in North America is the cost. My European relatives cannot believe that it costs more to take a 2.5 hour train trip in Canada than to travel across Europe.

          And I do agree, that as I am aging, that although I still like to take day trips driving, that the train is the most civilized form of travel. Free WiFi, room to roam, no worries about weather, etc.

          Would certainly like to see a Detroit Renaissance. Am old enough to remember the Police Games between the Detroit and Toronto Police Forces, when Toronto was the small town underdogs and the Detroit Force had loads of money for special buses, uniforms, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      vent-L-8

      Indeed

  • avatar
    cicero1

    Car company getting into unrelated real estate development – not wise.

    Currently the FBI is looking at more than a billions dollars for a new HQ in DC. Instead, the HQ should be re-located to Detroit or West Virginia – (1) munch lower costs than DC (modern communication means there is no need to be in DC, rest of DOJ will still be there) and (2) smart move politically to support states that turned last election.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      And you KNOW its unrelated because….?

      Let me borrow your time machine sometime, sounds neat.

      • 0 avatar
        cicero1

        its not being turned into an assembly plant; and unless they plan to abandon and move HQ from Dearborn they are not filling 18 floors. so what are they doing with it? True I don’t know, but I do know that many a company has made bad real estate investments – see Sears Tower, etc.

  • avatar
    FOG

    Ford has been involved in Real Estate over 50 years. The Company is Ford Land. They are very successful and know what they are doing. If they make a move on this property and acquire it, it would go well for Detroit.

    • 0 avatar
      anomaly149

      I really hope it is Ford Land doing this, and not Ford Motor.

      Ford Motor just launched a huge plan to rip up and rebuild its main facility in Dearborn. Not only is this sorely needed from a raw facilities point of view (those buildings are, bluntly, dawg-shit), but also there’s an ulterior motive: centralize EVERYONE back on-site. Today there’s a whole constellation of outbuildings, special snowflake facilities, and etc. off in Allen Park, Commerce Park, Livonia, Sterling, Romeo, etc. etc. etc. The plan here is to make everyone sit in one place as One big happy Ford family, all within easy walk-over-and-chew-out distance. I really can’t think of a more noble goal.

      Letting autonomous flunkies play off in Corktown is directly undermining that goal, and going even further with the old train station would essentially trash it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I think cities like Detroit are poised for a comeback, folks…enough so that I’m actually giving serious consideration to moving back to the midwest in a few years in preparation for retirement, and Detroit’s one of the cities I’m toying with. The cost of living there is just so much more attractive than it is here in Denver, which has gotten Looney-Tunes expensive lately.

    • 0 avatar

      Cincinnati and Indianapolis are both affordable AND less frigid than Detroit!

      Also Louisville.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And they’re on the list.

        Indy, in particular, is a neat city. It’s really come a long way since I first visited there in the ’70s and ’80s, and was known as “India-no-place.”

        But you have to be INSANE to pay what they want for Denver real estate. It’s just gonzo. I looked at a three bedroom, two bath house in Arvada (a basic middle class/blue collar neighborhood) with my girlfriend a few weeks ago – $450,000. Same kind of place in the city of Denver runs upwards of three quarters of a mil. It’s just nuts. It’d be a shame to leave – this is a really, really nice city – but I don’t want to be old and house-poor.

        • 0 avatar

          Mountains and skiing! Money time.

          Indy is far cleaner than Cincinnati, but overall I think a bit less “historical” in feel. They have the waterway thing, and lots of good neighborhoods to live in.

          I think I’d rather live there.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            That plays into it, but that stuff’s been here forever, and while Denver’s always been a bit expensive, it’s never been unaffordable per se. That’s rapidly becoming the case. As bad as Denver is, it gets even crazier in Boulder. The AVERAGE house up there – we’re talking a circa-1970 three bedroom – now runs ONE MILLION. Just gonzo.

            It’s the techies – they’ve run the market up, just like they did in Silicon Valley. And since we have antiquated HOA liability laws, no one wants to build condos – it’s all single-family and apartments.

          • 0 avatar

            Ahh, computer people. Ruining everything.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @FreeddMike: That three bedroom, two bath house in Arvada (a basic middle class/blue collar neighborhood) at – $450,000, would cost at least $800k (albeit in Canadian currency) in Toronto.

          • 0 avatar
            baggins

            Same house here on San Francisco Peninsula, about 1.5M

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Or $140K in Port Charlotte, FL, and the weather is nicer most of the time.

            Of course, most of the jobs are catering to the retired crowd. GREAT place to be in geriatrics.

    • 0 avatar
      Slocum

      Low cost of living in Detroit? In the region? Yes. In the city itself? Not really — not anywhere you’d want to live. The city has a 2.4% city income tax. Property tax rates are 3.5% of market value. Car insurance rates are the highest in the nation — by far (lots of young millennials use their parents’ addresses outside the city to get around it, and a huge fraction of the population drive uninsured — which, of course, helps raise everybody else’s rates). There are good reasons why in a region of ~5 million people, only 650K live in the city.

      So why is there new construction downtown? Becauuuse…there are huge (but temporary) tax breaks. There are folks living in brand new $400K condos paying $500/year in property taxes. But those breaks will expire after 15 years, and then the taxes will revert to 3.5% (or $14K/yr on $400,000). When all those tax deals start expiring it’s going to get really ugly.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Here in Syracuse they just turn every abandoned factory, office bldg., and warehouse into overpriced apartments for the yupwardly mobile. People are paying $1,500-$2,000 a month rent to live here, I can understand it up near the university, but not anywhere else around here. It would be comical if there weren’t so many homeless people.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I have to give Ford credit. This building is an American railroad landmark and a victim of Ford’s (and other brands’) products. It’s good to see this building getting some functional love and would love to see it become a hub for both the company AND a resurrection of passenger rail in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      True. The Wikipedia article on the MCT specifically mentions the automobile being one of the things causing its decline. But yeah, I know – Wikipedia.

  • avatar
    JimBot

    haha.. this is 100% NOT what’s happening with this building, but .. ok.. anyone think about where the Wayne County jails and court houses are going to go now that the old Gratiot site are selling to Dan Gilbert?

    Things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmmm

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I am happy to see Detroit actually building instead of tearing down. Never thought I’d see it in my life.

    City still a mess but at least there is good news coming.

    But with anything else in Detroit, I’ll belive it when it is finished.

    Wasn’t too long ago the MCS was supposed to be new DPD headquarters. That went nowhere.

    FYI I remember reading the reason the station is where it is is that when planned it was expected Detroit was going to continue to rapidly grow, with downtown spilling west into the corktown area. Of course this never happened, combined with private auto use, and the station was never fully utilized.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’m hoping the renovation is successful, and that they’re able to make a go of it. It’s always made me sad, seeing pictures of the giant arched windows with the panes broken out.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB

    I’m glad I took the time to read this article. When I read the title I wondered how this building could ruin anyone’s porn? I watch as much as the average 12 men and this building has never ruined a scene for me. I’ve never thought to myself “Damn! I was so close to finishing and that damn building appeared in the window and ruined my mood!”

    The English language is hard, even for those of us born into it.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Why is it many have known for a few decades at least the issues confronting the decaying City of Detroit and little was done to avert or at a minimum alleviate the decay?

    There are many “rust belts” around the world and I think more effort was placed in some regions to minimise the impact of “post industrial” life.

    I think part of the problem is being overly reliant on the auto manufacturers. Its good to see Ford doing something here and also using other facilities.

    But, why is Detroit as it is? You just can’t blame the decline in auto jobs as an effort should of been made to offset and hedge against this, as I stated this decline has occurred for decades.

    • 0 avatar
      RedRocket

      A city with infrastructure for nearly 2 million people has big bills to pay just to maintain that, much less operate it. Reduce that population to less than half and most of those bills do not go away. But the revenue stream to pay them does. As the economy failed the costs of social programs also spiked. Add to that a series of corrupt/incompetent mayors and you have a very big problem. That is why nothing was done. The city government of Detroit has been broke for over a generation.

  • avatar
    warrant242

    What IS a book depository?


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