DETROIT – For many, the old Michigan Central Station has been a symbol of Detroit for better or worse.
Detroit Historical Society President Joel Stone said the once tallest train station in the world, designed by the same architects who gave us Grand Central Station, was once one of the most important places in the country.
"It was a place where everybody wanted to be seen and wanted to leave on a train just so they could walk into the building to enjoy the grandeur that was Michigan Central Station," he said.
When Amtrak closed down the train station in 1988, vandals took over. Colorful graffiti lines the cavernous inside. But Ford Motor Company plans to make it pristine again.
The automaker released new photos of what it intends to do in the century-old station. Ford plans to place 2,500 autonomous vehicle engineers to work here, changing the face of the surrounding Corktown neighborhood.
Stone said it will change the face of Detroit itself.
"I think the excitement this has produced ... and really there's a buzz about this that I don't remember hearing about any kind of an investment project," he said.
Ford bussed in employees on Tuesday for a tour. Steve Cavitz was highly impressed.
"I've probably driven past it 1,000 times and it's pretty neat to actually get inside of it and see the history that was involved in this great building," he said.
Thousands attend Detroit train station announcement
Tuesday's news conference (or celebration) in front of the 18-story station that shut down in 1988 was expected to draw 5,000 people, a testament to the excitement and intrigue the region has for such an investment in Detroit. The building has sat vacant for 30 years under control of the Moroun family. Billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun bought the building in the 1990s. His family also owns the nearby Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.
As Matty's son, Matthew Moroun, announced the sale of the 500,000-square-foot structure, that once was see-through, he assured media members his family saved the building by owning it for the past few decades. That's despite how it became the symbol for a blighted Detroit.
But the prospect of a new symbol for Detroit would convince even the most skeptical that the Morouns were waiting for the right moment, and for the right buyer.
"The next steward of the building is the right one for its future," Moroun said. "The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit's progress and its success."
Detroit is 'open for business, for good'
Bill Ford Jr. confirmed during Tuesday's event that the company will move all of its mobility teams to a long-vacant train station in Detroit.
"We plan to renovate the Grand Hall and make it majestic again," said Ford.
That includes making it a public space. Ford said a modern workspace is planned for the 18-story tower. The automaker will restore it all in an environmentally-friendly way, he said.
When its finished, Ford believes it will be a symbol of good things to come for the city.
"A signal that Detroit is open for business, for good," he said.