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It’s official: Ford buys Detroit’s historic train station

This shows the historic Michigan Central Station on Monday, June 11, 2018, in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
This shows the historic Michigan Central Station on Monday, June 11, 2018, in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

DETROIT – Detroit’s long-vacant Michigan Central Station, a towering ruin that came to symbolize the city’s dramatic fall, has been sold to Ford Motor Co.

The automaker is expected to renovate the train depot and make it the hub of a campus for advanced automotive technology in the Corktown neighborhood.

Matthew Moroun, whose family enterprise has owned the empty station since 1995, announced the sale Monday morning. He stood in front of the once-elegant structure, now surrounded by razor wire and a chain-link fence.

The Ford sale also included a nearby former Detroit schools book depository that the family owns. Moroun declined to disclose the total sale price.

“The deal is complete,” Moroun said. “The future of the depot is assured. The next steward of the building is the right one for its future. The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit’s progress and its success.”

Ford is scheduled to share details of its plans for the station on June 19.

The sale has been expected since mid-March, when word of the automaker’s interest leaked out. Though family patriarch Manuel “Matty” Moroun is known as a tough negotiator who hangs onto properties, the process appeared to move forward steadily.

Matthew, Matty’s son, told reporters Monday that the “golden opportunity” for the station was proposed to him in October. He characterized negotiations with Ford as respectful.

Last month, the Free Press reported that the Morouns had transferred ownership of the 18-story station and nearby school book depository to companies set up by a New York law firm that had done past legal work for Ford.

Ford, based in Dearborn, last month transferred about 200 members of its mobility team into a nearby former factory site. The automaker is also is reported to be interested in other properties in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood just west of downtown.

The Beaux Arts-style train station, designed by the same architectural firms as Grand Central Terminal in New York, opened in 1913 as the tallest train station in the world.

It served as Detroit’s main train depot until it was closed by Amtrak in 1988.

The Moroun enterprise started obtaining parts of the station property in the early 1990s, and has owned it all since 1995. The family also owns the Ambassador Bridge and thousands of properties across Detroit.

The building fell into deep disrepair in the early 2000s and was the target of vandals and trespassers. It also became a recurring feature in photography books as a symbol of sorts for Detroit’s fall.

The new at the time lightweight diesel-Powered “Green Diamond” of the Illinois Central is shown to the public in 1936 at the Michigan Central station in Detroit. The engine was furnished by the Winton Engine division of General Motors. Detroit Free Press archive

In recent years, under pressure from the city, the Moroun enterprise installed more than 1,000 windows to the station’s tower, restored a working elevator and cleaned up the interior.

Matthew Moroun said that as Detroit emerged from its 2013-2014 bankruptcy and redevelopment across the city gained momentum, he was sure that the building would eventually find a new use.

“The ideas and opportunities pitched to us started as far-fetched ones like aquariums, beer halls and vertical farming,” he said.

Asked by a reporter if his family’s purchase of the station was worth it, Moroun replied, “It’s here because we bought it.”


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