News Wire: Detroit landmark to serve as Ford’s new mobility headquarters

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  • Member since
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Posted by Brian Schmidt on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 2:58 PM

DETROIT – Detroit’s Michigan Central station will become the centerpiece of Ford Motor Co.’s new mobility hub in Detroit’s Corktown community. Ford executives gathered alongside Michigan leaders Tuesday morning to announce maj...

Brian Schmidt, Associate Editor Trains Magazine

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, June 28, 2018 5:18 AM
A friend's report: A QUICK TRIP TO DETROIT AND AREA As many know, the former Michigan Central Terminal and office building has for decades stood as a symbol of the decline of the city of Detroit. Technically, it was the 13 story MC office building, standing alone almost 2 miles west of downtown Detroit, visible with all windows broken out, that most people saw for almost 30 years, as it had no other buildings near it and thus it readily stood out when seen from Windsor, the Ambassador Bridge or when passing it on Michigan Avenue or the Detroit freeway system (I-75). The station building was also a mess, but was not as easily seen as it was only a couple of floors high. Back in the 1990s the billionaire Matty Muroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and many other firms, over 800 residential properties in Detroit and trucking and oil companies in Michigan, and has now received permission to build a second bridge, next to his existing one (though this has not lessened his attempt to kill the Gordie Howe bridge proposed by Ontario and Michigan and which supposedly will start to be constructed late this year) purchased the MC Depot and office building with no clear cut idea of what to do with it. Though some fencing was put around the property, little attempt was made to keep trespassers out, and slowly but surely vandals stripped the buildings of anything even remotely having value. Rogue tour leaders led the brave on hikes up and down the stairs of this empty and depressing edifice, and even Hollywood used it for some films portraying end of the world themes. Only a few years ago, when the building finally became an embarrassment to the Morouns (who wanted better publicity in their quest for a new bridge), they spent a pile of money putting up better fencing, with razor wire, installed a working elevator and replaced all the windows, and even installed lights at night, to make it less of an eyesore. As it turns out, their arrogance worked to the public’s benefit, as some years ago the City ordered them to demolish the two buildings but the Morouns totally ignored this demand by the City Council. Over the past few years the City of Detroit has made a rapid turnaround from its steep 50 year decline, and major improvements have been made, including the Woodward Avenue Q Line streetcar, the Little Caesars Arena (for the Red Wings and Pistons), which in itself is a small city with shops, offices, and new and restored high rise apartment buildings next to the Q Line, and of course billionaire Dan Gilbert has continued with his one man (or one company) redevelopment effort to completely change the character of downtown Detroit and the Woodward Corridor by purchasing, rebuilding and selling space in or renting out around 90 buildings. He also is building a 70 story new office building on the site of the old Hudson’s Department store, and around 5 or 6 new downtown hotels have been built or installed in once abandoned buildings, greatly supporting efforts to bring new conferences to the totally rebuilt and now World Class Cobo Convention Center. In essence, there has been a major turnaround for the City, with many millennials from the suburbs fighting to buy condos in these new and restored buildings, close to a new cluster of bars, coffee shops, retail stores and restaurants. It is against this background of major improvements in the urban life of Detroit that the Ford Motor Company last week acknowledged that they had successfully negotiated the purchase of the MC Depot from the Moroun family (the price a closely held secret), and planned to rebuild it and the surrounding Corktown neighborhood by 2022, concentrating their R&D efforts for autonomous cars in this new Midwest Silicon Valley development. Given the interest in the old station, Ford announced that it would be available for public tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 22 – 24. I thought that we would just drop in, but then learned that one had to register in advance on their internet website. When I tried to get a reservation earlier this past week I found that it had been filled up, but I signed in for both myself and my wife on a waiting list. We later found out that a friend would be a docent at the station from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, and we also learned that demand for reservations to see the old station was so great that Ford decided to add Monday to the days it was available for touring. Since my wife had not yet ridden the Q Line Streetcar, and since we also had to go up to Southfield (in anti-transit Oakland County north of Detroit), I decided this would be a good time to try to see the station, and have dinner in Southfield as well. We arrived at the Ren Cen by 2:30 on a cloudy and 60-ish day, and parked in an adjacent deck that was convenient, but which I knew would cost us around $10, though not bad for a mid-city enclosed parking space with direct entry to the Ren Cen. Once at the Ren Cen I mailed the circuit and some other things, and then we walked the one third of a mile to Woodward Avenue and Larned Street, where the Q Line has its southern terminal. It took me around 3 minutes to figure out the ticket machine, which only accepts credit cards – one can pay cash to the machine in the cars. By the time my two 75 cent senior tickets were printed, each good for 3 hours of riding, car 291 showed up, and quickly left with us on it, at 3:35. I was pleased to see that it had no ads on it, and the following car also was in the original paint scheme. I left my camera in the car’s trunk, but on a nicer day hope to get back and get some shots of these ad-free cars. We left with about 18 on board. By the time we reached the northern limits of downtown Detroit, at Grand Circus Park, two southbound cars had passed us, indicating a rather good headway. By the time we had reached Wayne State University 4 southbound cars had passed, indicating that 5 of the 6 cars were in service. I wondered if this represents a new approach to running short headways to encourage more to ride. It was also nice to ride in a car where the operator really knew how to run it, at good speeds between stops. My wife enjoyed the ride, and the views of revitalized Woodward Avenue, with the cars having people getting on and off at most stops – not a ghost operation. I did not record what time we arrived at Grand Boulevard, the last stop, where our car then went north, switched to the single track which leads to the carbarn, and charged its batteries by raising the pantograph to a metal overhead charger. It then returned to the station and we left at 3:53, with 15 on by the Detroit Institute of Arts stop. We arrived at Grand Circus Park by 4:10, where we left the car and crossed the street in order to sit in the luxurious lobby of the new Aloft Hotel, in the once abandoned David Whitney high rise building, which is also attached to the Grand Circus Park people mover stop. The hotel seemed to have a good number of people checking in, and their bar was among the most luxurious and tasteful we had ever seen, a good place to return to if we are downtown sometime and want a good drink. Since my friend was on duty from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when they were supposed to close the station to the public, we each paid 75 cents cash fare (3 quarters each) to enter the people mover station, and took the elevator to the platform, where in 3 minutes a train came in. There was a decent load in car 02, but almost everyone got off at the Greektown Casino stop. I noted odd and somewhat worrying noises coming from the trucks as we went around a couple of sharp turns. And there was a chattering sound as it slowed down on the downgrade from the Bricktown station to the sharp curve leading to the Ren Cen station – I think the wheels slipped on wet rail as there was now a mist falling. A good crowd got on as we left the car. These cars are now 31 years old and I do not think any have had a major overhaul. Once back at the Ren Cen, we stopped at the Starbucks that recently opened adjacent to the post office for coffee and a snack, a rather convenient event for us, and I have noted that the original Starbucks, on the ground level, is still open, too. Besides two excellent restaurants on the river level, (below level one) there is also a Panera Bread there, plus a good beer and burger place on the Jefferson side of the complex – a lot more choices than was there even 5 years ago . Then we reclaimed the car (it indeed was a $10 fee) and drove to the MC Depot, arriving around 5:25. A good part of our route was along Michigan Avenue, past where a small ballpark has been built on the site that Tigers Stadium stood on. Michigan Avenue in this location still has red brick pavement, with asphalt in the middle of the street covering the old streetcar tracks, though much of the outside rails in both directions was now showing, unused since 1956. We also passed “Slows Bar B Q”, a popular watering spot whose sign features a steam engine, and which provides school bus transportation to Tigers games at Comerica Park for its patrons. Across the street from “Slows” is the “Mercury Bar”, named after the famous trains that connected Detroit and Cleveland. We have not been to either establishment, but really should as they are supposed to be good. While the Ford website for the station indicated that free parking was available along 17th Street, I found a curb side space on 16th, which was lucky as all curb space for several blocks was taken. We walked in the mist to the station, seeing a police car with flashing lights blocking the street leading to the station from under the tracks (Vernor Blvd, the street in southwest Detroit that Alex Pollack originally thought the streetcar line with Lisbon trams should be placed) – signs pointed to a tent, and there was a lineup of perhaps 20 people (we were told 900 lined up in the morning) – We were also told we would have less than a 20 minute wait, but then they asked for anyone who might be in their computer, and I said we should be there having filed for registration, they found us and told us we could go right in, but only after going through security that took place in a tent, namely, wanding to make sure no one was carrying a weapon. Once inside we quickly spotted our friend, taller than most others, and in a suit with tie. It was heartening to see how many were there, looking at the ruins of a once grand station – virtually all facing and floor covering had been destroyed or taken by vandals, but Ford had put in lights and some decorative posters, including one of an old Detroit streetcar. While I expected that most taking the time to look at the old station would be geezers recapturing memories, in fact a good percent were millennials, many with both real cameras and I-pads, I-phones, etc, all capturing the mood of this interesting but depressing place. They had opened the concourse that was between the main terminal and the route to the tracks, though no one could venture under the old track structure. The old skylight was leaking some mist onto the floor. A number of the young people, noticing that we were both over 21, asked us for our memories of the station, and I told them. A few of my memories included riding the first “Michigan Executive” train run by Amtrak, funded by the State, from Ann Arbor to Detroit, with the commuters amazed that the RDC had been replaced by 4 cars, two of which were round end observation cars, I think mainly from the “Twilight Limited”. Another memory was boarding a French Turbo Train there for a VIP demo ride back around 1973; I think snacks and drinks were provided, too. And I also remember attending an Amtrak Train Day show there, perhaps in the early 1980s, which included a display of ex-Lehigh Valley PV no 353 (“Black Diamond”), I was able to get some good shots in this mainly dark location, the beauty of digital photography – I also took flash shots, and of course no one objected to that. I recently suggested to a friend from this area, that he take the excellent slide show he gave to the Michigan Railroad Club in 1988, of shots he took of the station, trains, signs, conductors, ticket offices, passengers, etc, on the last day of Amtrak use of the station, and make a DVD out of these slides to present to Bill Ford, and/or the Ford Motor Co., which I think would appreciate his excellent work. We were told we had to leave around 6:15, and we walked back to the car, very glad to have taken part in this event. On Friday’s 11 p.m. news on Channel 4 they mentioned that 20,000 people registered for the tour, and another 7000 were on the waiting list, and today, Sunday, with good weather, a WWJ radio traffic report indicated that there was auto congestion on Michigan Avenue due to those showing up for today’s show. Due to the intense interest in this station, Ford agreed to continue the tours (there were organized tours we did not take) on Monday, June 25, up to 3 p.m. However, the very last place we would want to be on Monday would be Detroit, as it is the day for the annual fireworks show, that goes off from barges in the Detroit River opposite the Ren Cen, and is one of the largest such displays in the U.S. – we generally walk to the river in the park opposite our condo to watch, along with around 1000 others from this area. Traffic within, and to and from Detroit this day is heavy, and thus we are glad we got to see the station on Friday and not have to fight the traffic of hundreds of thousands of people who descend on downtown Detroit for the fireworks – we did get a response from Ford indicating that we could register for Monday, but luckily that was not necessary.
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Posted by Leo_Ames on Thursday, June 28, 2018 11:15 AM

Good read, but I hope you fix your shift button one of these days. :)

Nice to see some positive news not only for this historic structure, but for Detroit in general. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, June 28, 2018 4:00 PM

Good read, but I hope you fix your shift button one of these days. :)

How much do periods cost in Isreal?  Must be high as I only saw one - at the final end.

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