Detroit train station rehab said to be bigger deal for city than Lions, Ford Field

When the Detroit Lions moved back to the city from Pontiac in 2002, the current Detroit mayor made a remark to Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., whose family owns the NFL team.

"I said to Bill, 'You will never do more for the future of this city than what you did here today,' " Mayor Mike Duggan told an audience Friday. "Was I ever wrong.

"What is happening here eclipses anything we have ever seen," he said.

Duggan recounted that decades-old remark from the grand opening of downtown's Ford Field during a news conference inside Ford Motor Co.'s under-renovation Michigan Central Station, the centerpiece of the automaker's future 30-acre mobility-focused "innovation district" campus in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, left, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chair Bill Ford, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat and Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield pose for a photo on stage before a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, left, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chair Bill Ford, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat and Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield pose for a photo on stage before a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.

The Friday event celebrated a new public-private partnership among Ford, the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit — plus new commitments from tech giant Google.

More: Ford to enter public-private partnership at new Detroit campus

More: Transformed Michigan Central Station to include hotel rooms, massive wedding space

Under the partnership, the state is to direct more than $126 million in new and existing programs and spending to support or complement Ford's district, to be called Michigan Central.

Included in the announcement was news that Google will be a founding member of the district and also provide free computer science classes for local high schoolers inside the former train station. Detroit will be the first Midwest city to have those after-school and weekend classes for teens made available through Google's Code Next Lab program.

Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat speaks during a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.
Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat speaks during a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.

Last year, Google won a six-year contract to be Ford's "preferred" cloud-computing services provider and install Android-powered Google services in Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

As part of the public-private partnership, the city of Detroit has a tentative agreement to designate a special Transportation Innovation Zone testing site within the Michigan Central district. The zone would give businesses and startups expedited approvals for trying out new technologies.

“If you have an idea to change mobility in the world, this area right here on Michigan Avenue is where you can make your dreams come true," Duggan said of the zone.

Details on the precise location of the zone were not immediately available Friday.

Mid-2023 finish

Ford is busy rehabbing Michigan Central Station and is on pace to finish by mid-2023.

Work continues to be done on Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.
Work continues to be done on Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.

The train depot opened in 1913, closed in 1988 and devolved into a graffiti-covered symbol of Detroit's declining fortunes by the 2000s. When Ford purchased the abandoned station and nearby properties in 2018, it made world headlines.

Friday's news conference was held in the depot's former lobby. While the room is still under construction, 29,000 ceiling tiles have been replaced or cleaned by hand since the project began.

“The men and women who have been doing the restoration on this project are amazing, so thank you to every one of you," Bill Ford said.

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chair Bill Ford speaks to a crowd while sharing details on progress in the district, as well as who will be joining Ford at Michigan Central to help create the future on Feb. 4, 2022, at Michigan Central Station in Detroit.
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chair Bill Ford speaks to a crowd while sharing details on progress in the district, as well as who will be joining Ford at Michigan Central to help create the future on Feb. 4, 2022, at Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

“When this is open, it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be a gathering place for the community," he added. “Southwest (Detroit) and Corktown residents are going to come here, have fun, meet friends, hang out. It’s also going to be a great place to work in a post-COVID environment.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Ruth Porat, chief financial officer for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, also visited Ford's train station Friday and praised the automaker's ambitions.

Ford has said it will ultimately bring 5,000 workers to Michigan Central, with 2,500 of those being Ford employees and the others affiliated with outside organizations that would set up shop in the district.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a presentation about the progress in the district and the building at Michigan Central Station in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2022.

“Today, we are laying the groundwork to shape the next century of transportation solutions while reducing emissions and accelerating electrification,” Whitmer said.

Of the more than $126 million in state funds to support or complement the Michigan Central project:

  • $72 million will be for new housing around the district via the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

  • $35 million will fund street planning and reconstruction through the Michigan Department of Transportation.

  • $2 million will be for grants for "smart infrastructure."

  • Nearly $2 million will fund workforce training.

  • $500,000 will be designated for various electric vehicles and mobility programs.

The total cost for Ford's new Michigan Central Detroit campus, including the train station rehab, was last pegged at $950 million.

Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcreindl. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit train station rehab said to be bigger deal than Lions