The view from inside long-vacant Michigan Central Station.
JC Reindl/Detroit Free Press
News of Ford’s potential purchase of the long-vacant Michigan Central Station has reignited discussions about the future of Corktown, the consequences of having such a powerful company as an anchor in the community, and, most significantly, what possible bigger shifts are in store for property in the area.
A search of available records, using Loveland Technologies mapping service, found that of the 86 properties closest to the depot, nearly 20% are owned by the City of Detroit. Or put another way, of the 46.45 acres surrounding the station, 47% are owned by the city. Given the city’s history of working with developers to encourage construction, the surrounding area may undergo a range of infrastructure and aesthetic improvements.
In addition to Roosevelt Park, which sits in front of the depot, the city owns four massive plots of land to the west of the train station, 10 small plots on 18th Street and one property on 17th Street.
The Moroun family, which owns the train station, also owns two massive properties east and west of the depot, and four smaller plots on 17th Street, next to the one owned by the city.
The city says it’s not involved in conversations about a potential deal between Moroun and Ford, though sources tell the Free Press otherwise.
“To state the obvious, we love all corporate investment in the city that creates jobs. So we’d be as enthusiastic about Ford as any other tenant looking at major investments,” Jed Howbert, a member of Mayor Mike Duggan’s Jobs and Economy Team, told the Free Press this week.
Detroit has helped with past projects — from the Little Caesers Arena deal, which came with a $324-million public subsidy captured by the Detroit Downtown Development Authority, to the Book Cadillac renovation, which received $24 million from two public pensions.
“I have no idea what the city would do or not do, or what Ford would or would not do, but for me, if Ford was prepared to come in and redevelop that building, then this is what is called a planning gain,” said Robin Boyle, a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University. “This is a gain for the community and the city would be well-advised to hold their sites and see what evolves because this would be an opportunity for a whole range of potential initiatives that could emerge in that area.”
While Boyle didn’t want to speculate on what the city will or won’t do to woo Ford — or any developer — to the train station, he stressed that any depot project must be thoughtful and look beyond just the one building.
“If the connectivity of that building to downtown isn’t considered at the same time that the building is being retrofitted, or whatever happens, if that’s not part of it then it becomes yet another large building that has got to be accessed by automobiles,” said Boyle, noting that as of right now the public transportation options to Corktown are “insufficient and unacceptable.”
“If this does come to fruition, which I sincerely hope it does … I would hope that serious thought is given to how the building and the use of the building and the people going through the building are better connected to downtown,” he said, stressing that a lack of strategic planning would be tragic and render the depot “yet another auto-centric building that will need a ton of parking and will have implications on land use around the area.”
If indeed the city is involved, the 2017 Community Benefits Ordinance could kick in, requiring developers to meet with residents to discuss a project’s community impact, should the project be getting a tax break or other economic incentive.
“Over the years, there have been so many rumors about development happening in that community,” said Linda Campbell of the Equitable Detroit Coalition. “My first reaction is always, what will this development mean for residents in the community and nearby communities and the city of Detroit at large? What kind of public investment — if any — will be made? Is it something that will get taxpayers on the hook for corporate development? These are details we need to take a look at as citizens to see if this is truly a development project that is going to make a difference for the everyday Detroiter.”
How a community benefits agreement would shape any Ford deal is unclear. So far in Detroit, only six projects have been subjected to the law — four of them Dan Gilbert initiatives. The end results, according to a new report from WDET, have been a lot of talk and not many actual benefits.
“WDET found that after 12 weeks of community benefits talks with residents across the four projects, Bedrock committed to two community benefits in its agreements with the city. The first: Bedrock would communicate with residents about construction-related activity. And the second: Bedrock would support job training initiatives, something the company has been doing for years,” the WDET report stated.
Rashida Tlaib, a former Michigan state representative who also is part of the Equitable Detroit Coalition, hopes that even without public funding, Ford would meet with the community.
“I just hope there is an actual sit-down and agreement on whatever future development Ford Motor Co. would like to have there,” said Tlaib, adding that it was difficult to speak about the future as so much of the process has been obscured.
“It’s unfortunate a lot of these deals are done behind closed doors and often the role of the city is much more prominent than they’re revealing to all of us,” she said.
Still, Corktown residents interviewed Wednesday expressed general cheer about the potential of development.
“It would be amazing to see such a beautiful and historic building renovated,” said Ben Newman, owner of Detroit Institute of Bagels and a Corktown resident.
“I would rather see our tax dollars go toward renovating vacant buildings than building stadiums and jails,” he added.
For Stephen and Cory McGee, who purchased a house across the street from the station in 2013, the possible deal is both welcomed and monumental.
Recounting a time he approached some Italian tourists taking photos of the station and being told the depot was the “biggest most beautiful ruin in America,” Stephen McGee explained that any renovation would “not only be a city win but a national win.”
“I mean to see lights on, to know they’re not just on display, that’s exciting,” Cory McGee added.
“Ford is an existing business that has been here in Michigan for however long now; they have a great reputation and it’s not an outsider coming in,” she continued, noting that the only downside might be needing to find a new coffee shop because the Astro, where they were sitting Wednesday morning, would likely be overrun by newcomers.
The prospect of an influx of people does strike a nerve.
“I can imagine an aftershock in terms of the need for housing, and that’s kind of my main priority,” said Alejandro Fesil, who works at Astro and rents a three-bedroom house with friends in southwest Detroit, right behind the station.
The 27-year-old says he’s thinking of buying a home in the city and news of Ford’s potential purchase of the train station has him feeling anxious about what will be available, as well as what will happen to his rent in the interim.
“It feels like a chess game of sorts to strategize; for me, I’m thinking of rent right now; I am thinking of the implications of a big company like Ford maybe moving into the train station and how wide a radius of an aftershock will be felt. Will it affect where I’m at?” he asked, noting that he pays $450 in rent, but has seen prices begin to rise in his neighborhood in the past six to seven months.
“It’s moving in the direction of Midtown pricing. I think it starts first with availability, and then when there is less housing available, it becomes more competitive in terms of pricing.”
Contact Allie Gross: [email protected] Follow Allie on Twitter @Allie_Elisabeth. Jennifer Dixon and Kristi Tanner contributed to this story.
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Published at Thu, 22 Mar 2018 15:15:33 +0000