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Ford taps Alphabet project co-founder to serve as CEO of Michigan Central

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 21, 2022

Mercury Bar, left, and the abandoned Michigan Central Station, right, in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood are shown on Jan. 29, 2015.  (Tribune News Service)
Mercury Bar, left, and the abandoned Michigan Central Station, right, in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood are shown on Jan. 29, 2015. (Tribune News Service)
Jordyn Grzelewski Detroit News

DEARBORN, Michigan — Ford Motor Co. on Monday announced a chief executive officer to lead Michigan Central, the mobility district the automaker is developing in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, anchored by the former Michigan Central Station.

Joshua Sirefman, 54, the co-founder and former president of New York City-based Sidewalk Labs – Google parent company Alphabet Inc.’s smart city projects – has been tapped for the role. His chief task: to “advance the vision for the district and execute a plan that leverages placemaking, cross-sector collaboration, and real estate development to promote innovation and inclusion,” according to a news release.

In addition to leading the development of the district, Sirefman will head up Michigan Central’s Innovation Services Business that includes overseeing the agenda set by the project’s “founding members” – so far, Ford and Google – and other public-private partners, according to Ford. Sirefman will be responsible for recruiting new talent to the campus and coordinating governance and reporting.

Sirefman also will help oversee Michigan Central’s new philanthropic arm, Michigan Central Foundation.

“Joshua is the perfect fit to lead the development of Michigan Central,” Mary Culler, Michigan Central’s development director, chief of staff to Ford executive chair Bill Ford, and president of the Ford Fund, said in a statement. “His experience in mobility, developmental planning and community engagement – which was especially important to us – will be key to helping guide the district’s team and partners along the path to meaningful innovation that truly helps in creating a more accessible future for all.”

Sirefman also served as Sidewalk Labs’ head of development and, most recently, senior adviser. Sidewalk Labs announced in December that it would be folded into Google as its founder and CEO stepped down for health reasons. The urban innovation initiative’s flagship project was an effort to create a “smart district” in Toronto that did not come to fruition, according to media reports.

Prior to co-founding Sidewalk Labs, Sirefman started development services firm Sirefman Ventures. The firm led Cornell University’s successful bid to attract a new applied sciences graduate program to New York City, Ford noted in a news release. Sirefman also served on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s economic development team and oversaw development in the U.S. for real-estate management company Brookfield Properties.

In a statement, Sirefman said he sees Michigan Central “and the work developed and piloted here living at the nexus of physical, social and economic mobility. As an open platform welcoming all to break new boundaries in innovation across all three fronts, we have an exciting opportunity to be a world-leading place of impact – starting with Detroit communities and extending outward.”

The district will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary – the newly-formed Michigan Central Innovation District LLC – of Ford. That entity will oversee operations and initiatives tied to the 30-acre district.

Google recently was announced as a “founding member,” along with Ford, of Michigan Central. Though Ford is leading the redevelopment of the iconic former train station and the surrounding area, the company has emphasized that Michigan Central will not be a Ford campus, but a collaborative district where startups and established companies alike will develop and test mobility products and services.

Michigan Central leaders also recently announced a public-private partnership with the state of Michigan and city of Detroit that will include additional financial support for the project and the creation of a Transportation Innovation Zone within the district where the city would fast-track approvals to allow companies to pilot mobility technologies.

Google’s involvement will focus on workforce development for local high school students and job seekers. The California-based company also will provide cloud technology for Michigan Central’s mobility projects.

Sirefman is originally from New York but has some experience working in Detroit, according to a news release. He created and operated a program through nonprofit community redevelopment organization Islandview Village Development Corp. and co-designed a citywide industrial retention program as a member of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

The restoration of Michigan Central Station is slated for completion next year. Overall, the nearly $1 billion development project includes 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.

Ford purchased the former, long-abandoned train station in 2018 and since then has been working on a project that, in addition to redeveloping the station into offices, retail shops, event space and a hotel, includes building out the district that will mostly be open to the public. The adjacent, Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository building and the 1,250-parking-spot Bagley Mobility Hub are slated to open this summer.

Ford expects to have about 2,500 employees based at Michigan Central, with the rest of the employees on the campus coming from other companies.

©2022 www.detroitnews.com. Visit at detroitnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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