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Hundreds help Ford celebrate next chapter for Michigan Central train station

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Lately, Detroit has more good news to report than bad. Its bankruptcy is in the rear view mirror, the streets have lighting again, and more businesses are moving downtown.

Now, Ford Motor Company is adding a big piece of good news. The automaker has bought Michigan Central station, that iconic symbol of Detroit blight.  And it's planning to transform it as a symbol of rebirth.   

It's impossible to overstate how happy Detroiters are to see one of their biggest embarrassments about to be transformed to a point of pride: a once-breathtaking building, vacant and vandalized for decades, will be restored and open for business. 

Julian Bibb is among the hundreds who came to Ford's event Tuesday. Bibb says this is family history for him. He says his grandmother arrived at this station in 1968 from Birmingham, Alabama -- and he was one of the many who snuck in to take photos of its ruined beauty decades later.  

"This city isn't about to be known as just a place of ruin and decay," says Bibb.  "It's about to be known as a metropolis again."

Over the years, the ghostly corridors of Michigan Central station became infamous the world over -- from "ruin porn" photograph exhibits to movies like Batman versus Superman and Transformers.

Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Grosse Pointe resident Bridget Zukas and her husband pose with Detroit resident Julian Bibb at Michigan Central Station celebration

It's a big deal -- not just for Detroiters -- that after all these decades of neglect, it will be saved, and rehabilitated. Bridget Zukas drove here from nearby Grosse Pointe.  She thinks this could be a turning point for the city.

"Trying to get people to come and relocate to Detroit -- and this is supposed to be a technology center - why couldn't this be like what they have in Silicon Valley, and really atttracting the younger people to come back?"

Local artists poured on the Detroit pride, from cellist Joshua McClendon, to the Detroit Children's Choir, to rapper Big Sean.

And a beaming Bill Ford says it's one of the proudest days of his career. He remembers being awed by the station as a boy -- thinking nothing in the world could be so grand.

"But once the last train pulled out it became a place where hope left. As parts of Detroit hollowed out, so did this station."

Ford says Michigan Central station will once again welcome the public, with a renovated grand lobby with places to shop or meet for coffee. About 2,500 Ford employees will move into it or nearby buildings that the company has recently bought.

Many in Corktown hope Ford's move will help continue the revitalization of the city's west side, matching the growth closer to downtown.

That's a few years out. While it doesn't help the city's struggling school system and its still-suffering neighborhoods, a city doesn't come back without hope, and Ford seems to be giving Detroit a big dose of it.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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