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Unfinished plans and demolition fears: A look at Michigan Central Station’s uncertain past

Building now being renovated

Michigan Central Station (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)
Michigan Central Station (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

DETROIT – After traffic at Michigan Central Station halted for good in 1988, numerous plans for what could fill the space appeared.

However, no ideas for the hulking building in Detroit’s Corktown came to fruition until Ford Motor Co. purchased the former train depot in 2018 and got to work on a project.

Ford is planning to move its autonomous vehicle team into the building as part of a development that will include other buildings.

The automaker said it will create a campus that will consist of about 1.2 million square feet of property in Corktown. The mixed-use space will feature office space, retail space and residential housing.

The company has said it intends to keep the main floor of MCS open to the public.

While the station’s revival is becoming more of a reality, for decades its future was uncertain.

Here are some plans for the station that never panned out:

The station was still in operation when the main waiting room was closed in April of 1967. Amtrak would later take over the station in 1971, reopen the waiting room and pour more than $1 million into renovating MCS. This renovation included the addition of a bus terminal.

However, train travel was declining, and even the addition of buses couldn’t save the struggling station. It closed on Jan. 5, 1988.

WATCH: 1991 segment captures Michigan Central Station’s descent into decay

Real estate developer Mark Longton Jr. purchased the building in 1989 with plans to open a casino, however the plan never materialized.

In 1996, Controlled Terminals Inc., a company owned by Manuel Moroun, bought the station. By this point, it had already been gutted by scrappers.

Scappers steal materials from Michigan Central Station in 1991. (WDIV)
Scappers steal materials from Michigan Central Station in 1991. (WDIV)

Since Moroun acquired the building, several ideas have been proposed for MCS including a trade processing center, a casino, a new Detroit Police headquarters and a new Michigan State Police headquarters.

In 2003, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wanted to renovate the station to be the city’s police headquarters. It would have been an expensive undertaking, though, and it didn’t happen.

Moroun had also proposed making MCS the Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection headquarters.

The train station almost met its demise in 2009 when the Detroit City Council ordered an emergency demolition of the building. However, it is on the National Register of Historic Places, which it was added to in 1975, and bringing down the building would have cost millions.

The inside of Michigan Central Station Station in 2017.
The inside of Michigan Central Station Station in 2017. (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

Thus, the building remained standing.

New windows were installed in 2015, as well as an elevator that is able to transport heavy construction materials and machinery to the top floors.

Now, crews are onsite transforming the once-booming transportation hub into something new.

After 30 years of vacancy, a new, certain future is on Michigan Central Station’s horizon.


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