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Ford Plans Mobility Testing Site Behind Michigan Central Station

January 29, 2020

Crain’s Detroit Business

Annalise Frank

Ford Motor Co. plans a vehicle testing site behind Michigan Central Station, the Corktown Detroit train depot the Dearborn-based automaker is redeveloping as part of a planned $740 million campus there.

Ford has discussed placing a testing ground at the train station’s old loading platform area in community meetings and included it in a new site map presented by Mary Culler, development director for Ford’s Michigan Central Station redevelopment, Wednesday morning at the Detroit Policy Conference at MotorCity Casino Hotel.

“We’re exploring that as the plan now … It’s in the framework,” Ford Corktown spokeswoman Christina Twelftree told Crain’s.

The formerly vacant, 505,000-square-foot depot is the centerpiece of Ford’s planned mobility district around Michigan Avenue that it expects to eventually employ 5,000 in 1.2 million square feet.

Last year Ford expanded autonomous vehicle testing to Detroit. And the automaker has previously described the Corktown campus as a location for trying out new mobility products. The testing ground would likely feature micromobility — a term used for e-scooters, electric bicycles and other small forms of transport — and autonomous vehicles. Twelftree said any formal decisions on its exact shape and use are forthcoming.

“There’s a huge amount of land back there” so testing there makes sense, Twelftree said. The site is more than 7 acres.

As shown in the site map, the Michigan Central Station redevelopment would also connect to the incoming Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park via a planned trail called the May Creek Greenway.

Phase 2

Culler also said Wednesday that Ford has finished the first phase of its $350 million redevelopment of Michigan Central Station: weatherizing and stabilizing the building. The automaker’s contractors have plugged the previously leaky structure’s holes and removed 650,000 gallons of water from its basement.

“Now we’re kind of in the exciting part, which is the actual renovation of the station, including all the masonry work, all the limestone and re-creating what was, frankly, there before,” Culler said.

The first Ford building to open in Corktown — after The Factory, where more than 200 Ford employees already work — will be the 273,000-square-foot former Detroit Public Schools book depository, planned as a workspace, office space and maker’s space, according to Culler. It is not a historic preservation project so it is “moving along more quickly,” Culler said.

‘Guiding principles’

The automaker also continues to tout its presence in Detroit as not just that of any developer, but a “neighbor” who will “make decisions that support equitable outcomes” and “contribute to an inclusive and authentic place,” according to a list of “guiding principles” presented by Culler on Wednesday. Ford is compelled by a community benefits agreement with the city to spend $5 million for education and workforce training programs, $2.5 million for a city revolving loan fund for real estate development and $2.5 million for affordable housing projects.

Outside that deal required for big real estate projects in Detroit, it remains to be seen how Ford’s rhetoric turns into action in the coming years. The train station is expected to reopen in 2023.

Institutions in Southwest Detroit have expressed concern over already rising prices in the area, affordable housing and how investments sparked by Ford’s plan could transform the region.

“So we’re trying to get ahead of all of that and working with the community on job training,” Culler said Wednesday, referencing impact on real estate prices, housing and jobs.

Asked if Ford or the Ford Motor Company Fund planned to fund any affordable housing outside its contributions under the community benefits agreement with the city, Culler said “it’s early days to say that, but … there’s no doubt that we will continue our longstanding tradition of supporting community and we’re working with the community on what those programs should be.”

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