Ford reveals plans for Michigan Central, a 30-acre “mobility innovation district” in Detroit’s Corktown


Ford Motor Company has officially unveiled design plans for Michigan Central, a 30-acre redevelopment in Detroit that gives way to an “inclusive, vibrant, and walkable mobility innovation district” centered around the restored Michigan Central Station. Ford acquired the iconic and once-demolished 1914 Beaux Arts landmark in June 2018, which closed and disrupted in the late 1980s. The site map was developed by the project’s lead architect and planner, the New York-based Architecture and Urban Development Office (PAU), and was first published at a virtual community meeting on November 17th.

Last week, Gensler-led plans for the Book Depository, a revitalized building designed by Albert Kahn and completed in 1926, were also released. The building is east of the Central Station and is also known as the Roosevelt Warehouse a post office and later used as a warehouse for excess equipment for the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Similar to the main train station, it was also abandoned at the end of the 1980s. The reborn book depot is badly devastated and damaged and after its abandonment at least one gruesome discovery. It will now serve as the “industrial hub” of Michigan Central, with a shared workspace, laboratories, and innovation studios spread across spacious floor plans, according to a press release, “promoting connection when tenants create, learn and collaborate.” The highlight of the Book Depository will be a large roof area with a wide view of the city and “first-class amenities”.

Atrium view of the Book Depository, a busy multi-level maker area housed in a once-derelict school district warehouse. (Courtesy of Gensler)

“The revitalized building is designed to meet the needs of a changing hybrid workforce – tenants with high expectations for shared amenities, access to wellness resources, and connectivity,” said Lily Diego, design director of Gensler’s Detroit office, in a statement . “The interiors will be very flexible, adaptable, and eclectic, with everything from walls and panels to furniture and fittings that can be flipped, moved, or repurposed to support a variety of uses so that employees are most effective with the space and can get in contact with each other. “

For Detroiters familiar with the rundown and seemingly dilapidated, irreparable building, the proposed conversion into an elegant, mixed-use maker space seems like a miracle.

The dramatic redevelopment plan taking place in Corktown will connect this historic neighborhood (the city’s oldest) more seamlessly with three neighboring neighborhoods – North Corktown, Mexicantown, and Hubbard Richard – with the restored Central Station serving as a kind of gateway. A series of plazas, outdoor areas, improved streets and a unique 7 acre mobility platform with shared pedestrian and bike paths on a series of disused elevated railway tracks behind the station will help fuse this connection. According to Ford, the goal was to create a network of fully walkable, interconnected neighborhoods that together form a larger neighborhood with parks, shops, restaurants, and multimodal transit options within 20 minutes’ walk in each direction.

The site map created by the PAU was informed through an 18-month community engagement process by Ford, during which public art, hiking and biking trails, green spaces and other public facilities were identified by local residents as the most important needs and wants. “To encourage vibrancy and density, the plan includes a range of housing options as well as new public facilities such as a grocery store and daycare,” Ford added in its press release.

Draft of a site plan for a redevelopment zone in Detroit(Courtesy PAU)

In addition to the extensively renovated and reactivated Central Station and the Book Depository, two other buildings play a central role in Michigan Central’s site plan: Building West, a new structure that will flank the western end of the Central Station, and an existing building called Die Fabrik, which, according to the automaker, already has 250 members of Ford’s autonomous vehicle business unit. The plan also provides for a large parking structure / mobility center, the Bagley Mobility Hub, which will provide parking space (1,250 total) to over 5,000 workers on Michigan Central Campus (about half of which are Ford employees) while also providing access to micromobility solutions such as Scooters and e-bikes.

As explained by Ford, the Bagley Parking Hub goes beyond its primary function as a parking structure:

“The Bagley Parking Hub will improve street life with outdoor art, two new public spaces, green spaces and a canopy of trees. Public amenities to be explored include free WiFi, outdoor seating, drinking fountains, restrooms, bike storage, and public parking on evenings and weekends. The technical environment offers electric charging, intelligent parking and payment systems, room usage sensors and intelligent lockers. It will be built to high sustainability standards, with an emphasis on rainwater management, health and wellbeing, and promoting the region’s natural ecology. “

Work on the Bagley Parking Hub and the Gensler’s Book Depository are scheduled to begin in early 2021 with the expected opening dates in early 2022. Meanwhile, the main train station is in phase 2 of its extensive restoration, which Ford described as the “most labor-intensive part.” The focus of the project was on repairing the steel structure and repairing eight acres of masonry. “These efforts, temporarily stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, are expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Before any work on any other element of Michigan Central can begin, Ford must complete the site plan approval process, which involves several different municipal departments.

Hiking and biking trails on old elevated railway tracksA historic section of elevated railway tracks at Michigan Central Station is being transformed into a kind of mobility-oriented linear park. (Courtesy PAU)

The disused railroad mobility platform behind the main train station is managed by the Boston-based landscape architecture studio Mikyoung Kim Design in collaboration with the Detroit-based livingLAB. As previously mentioned, the park-like platform will include reconfigurable shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists, while providing Ford with an “open, eclectic landscape” in which the automaker and its innovation partners “can test and showcase emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and micro-vehicles. Mobility initiatives. “

In addition to the mobility platform, Mikyoung Kim Design and livingLAB will also oversee the design of the various squares and open spaces in Michigan Central.

“Great landscapes should tell stories and build bridges between communities,” said company founder Mikyoung Kim. “We will create a 21st century civic center with smart streets and multimodal connectivity that pushes the boundaries of innovation while being a relaxing and welcoming place for all Detroiters.”

Many more details about Michigan Central – a project that Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder and creative director of PAU, believes will soon be a global model for the growth and construction of our cities while celebrating the narratives and structures that ours Define past available on a website under development. In the meantime, Ford is also offering virtual tours of the central station’s restoration.


Dusty Kennedy