Detroit Depot Restoration Moving Along

Restoration of the former Michigan Central station in Detroit is well along and project managers expect it to be complete by the second quarter of 2023.

Once completed, you’ll be able to eat, drink, work and even get married in the longtime Detroit icon and symbol of urban decay, but you won’t be able to catch a train.

The depot’s days as a train station ended in early January 1988 when Amtrak ceased using it and the beaux arts building’s new owner has other plans for the area where passengers once boarded trains.

The 18-story MC station has been owned by the Ford Motor Company since 2018. For decades before Ford bought it, the structure, which opened in 1913, had seemed destined to be razed.

Nearly all of its windows had been broken and anything of value had been stolen or removed.

During a news media tour last week of the station complex, project managers said the building was missing everything imaginable when workers began their renovation five-year work.

Ford plans to locate restaurants and a luxury hotel on the upper three floor of the station.

Offices for Ford and its partners in the mobility and autonomous vehicle endeavors will be housed in the next 10 floors.

The bottom floors will be devoted to public gathering spaces, a coffee shop, a food court, and events space with a capacity of 1,000.

The former boarding area will become a mobility testing site to be named The Platform.

During the media tour, Ford’s project manager, Rich Bardelli, said the project remains within its $740 million budget. Ford bought the building and its adjacent properties for $90 million.

Much of the early restoration work at the station involved restoring infrastructure that had vanished during the years when the structure sat vacant and was a target of vandals, thieves and squatters.

This included installing 300 miles of electric wire; 20 miles of heating and cooling duct work and piping; 6 miles of plumbing pipes; and 8.6 miles of grout in between 29,000 terracotta tiles along the arching ceiling of the front waiting room.

Some of the station’s original architectural features had to be recreated and painstakingly installed.

More than 1,700 of the Guastavino terracotta ceiling tiles had to be replaced, which involved building 252 tons of scaffolding to place them 65 feet above the floor.

Engineers used 3-D printing and resin to recreate 560 new lightweight ornate floral rosettes and leafs that adorn the windows.

Most of the original iron rosettes had been removed and during the restoration process some individuals who had possession of some of them dropped them off at the construction site so they could be reinstalled.

Located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the station is the centerpiece of a campus Ford is creating that will cost $950 million.

Ford plans to move 2,500 of its employees in autonomous and electric vehicle development departments to the campus. There will be space for 2,500 more Ford workers from suppliers and partners in the mobility sector.

Aside from the station itself, Ford is renovating the adjacent Book Depository building for use as offices and plans to construct a third office building on the campus.

Bardelli said dining options in the station complex will be located on the top floors of the tower; the former carriage house on the west end of the building along Vernor Highway; and a food court in the concourse.

Negotiations are underway with potential retail, hospitality and hotel vendors and contracts are expected to be reached later this year.

Over the next 18 months craftsmen will be recreating some of the other historic features of the station, including wood wainscoting panels, crown molding, marble borders and wood floors in the former waiting rooms.

“We’re in the midst right now of just starting to put all of that back,” Bardelli said.

The former waiting areas are being repurposed into events space and Bardelli said Ford has already received inquiries from couples who want to get married there.

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