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Ford saves Detroit’s Michigan Central Station as it plots its own future

When he was growing up in southwest Detroit, Cristian Rubio was never very curious about the shuttered train station that overlooked his neighborhood. The building, located a few miles west of downtown, was one of the most visible symbols of the city’s urban decline and a must-see location for photographers wanting to capture its decline.

Mr. Rubio’s interest intensified in high school, after watching the 2009 music video “Beautiful,” which showed local rapper Eminem walking through the ravaged Beaux Arts building with its vaulted ceilings and tall columns, its broken windows, rainbow graffiti and broken light fixtures. .

Since then, “I wanted to know if it was abandoned or not,” said Mr. Rubio, 29, a Mexican restaurant manager who moved from Jalisco, in west-central Mexico, 20 years ago . “Now we have a chance to do it.”

The Ford Motor Company purchased Michigan Central Station in 2018 from the wealthy Moroun family for $90 million and has since spent hundreds of millions of dollars restoring it to its original beauty. Ford’s plan is to create a center for collaboration and innovation with its workers and independent startups and companies involved in mobility and transportation issues. Additionally, he hopes to make the station a community gathering place with retail stores, a destination restaurant, event space, a hotel and possibly nearby Amtrak service in the future.

On June 6, Mr. Rubio plans to be among 15,000 people who will attend an outdoor concert, attended by Eminem and others, to celebrate the official reopening.

The station, completed in 1913, handled more than 4,000 passengers daily at its peak in the 1940s. It closed in 1988, eventually becoming a magnet for scrap dealers, vandals, graffiti artists, urban explorers and the homeless.

William Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, today leads the company his great-grandfather founded in 1903. “Our industry is on the verge of radical change, and that change must be invented here,” said Mr. Ford said. “I realized that was the perfect goal for Michigan Central Station.”

He added: “We want Detroit to once again become a destination where the future is invented and preserve its title as the Motor City for generations to come. »

In total, Ford will spend nearly $1 billion to create a 30-acre campus, eventually staffing thousands of workers, with the train station as its centerpiece – along with other company-owned buildings including Newlab, a former book depository next door that last opened its doors. year and is currently home to 97 startups and around 600 workers.

The company hopes the station, in its dynamic urban environment, will attract top talent at a perplexing time for the fiercely competitive auto industry, as it prepares for its future with autonomous, electric and hybrid vehicles. The company expects most of the campus to be operational within three to five years, with the first tenants moving into the station in June and some Ford employees this fall.

But amid excitement about the renovation and opening, as well as opportunities for businesses and investors, longtime residents like Mr. Rubio worry about the impact it will have on neighborhoods surroundings.

“A lot of people are worried about gentrification,” he said, especially with property values, taxes and rents rising since Ford bought the resort, and outsiders trying to buy properties. Some residents complain of having been approached several times by real estate agents and investors looking for homes to buy, prompting at least one of them, on Sainte-Anne Street, to post a sign “Not for sale” on his property.

The station is in Corktown, an old but now hip neighborhood, bordering Mexicantown, a more working-class neighborhood some call Southwest.

Corktown was once home to Tiger Stadium and a number of Irish pubs. In recent years, it has become a place welcoming new restaurants and bars, while maintaining traditions like the St. Patrick’s Day parade and being home to the Gaelic League of Detroit, an Irish-American social club. New modern apartments have been added to the housing stock composed mainly of single-family houses and older duplexes.

Mexicantown, just behind the train station, maintains a strong Latin American presence with ethnic restaurants, tortilla factories, taco and burrito food trucks, bakeries and murals, as well as the annual Cinco de Mayo parade. Over time, people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds moved into the community, resulting in a more eclectic population.

Susana Villarreal-Garza, 63, the second-generation owner of Tamaleria Nuevo León, a tamale shop in the shadow of the train station, echoed similar sentiments as Mr. Rubio, the restaurant manager.

“What worries me is that the people who live here, who have been here for 30, 40, 50 years, are not going to be able to afford this tax increase, and they are going to be pushed out,” Ms. » said Villarreal-Garza. After Ford bought the station, “within the first couple of weeks,” she said, “I was getting calls from all over the place from real estate agents.” They were all interested in listing his house.

She also received calls from people in Florida and New Jersey interested in buying her restaurant. “They came at least seven times in a week to knock,” she said. One of them offered $800,000.

“I said no.’ They said, ‘What’s your price?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a price, I’m not for sale.’

Real estate agents told him they could get $300,000 for his house, which was worth about $35,000 a decade ago.

Robert Warfield, 75, who has lived in a townhouse near the station since 2005, sees things differently. He welcomes Ford’s renovation and the resulting increase in property values. He said the station’s deterioration had driven down home values.

“It looked so decrepit it was depressing,” said Mr. Warfield, director of operations for the Bing Youth Institute. “It was like the elephant in the room: sitting in the middle of the community was this monstrosity of nothing.”

Mr Warfield does not expect a mass exodus of residents selling at very high prices. “These people are rooted in this community,” he said. “And I think they appreciate the fact that the value of community is now recognized.”

Richard Gonzalez, 53, a truck mechanic who grew up in Mexicantown and posted the “Not for Sale” sign, also welcomes the change, including new residents who have moved in since Ford’s announcement. “I love it,” he says. “They are trying to take care of their property. That’s what I like.”

Joshua Sirefman, president and CEO of Michigan Central, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford, said the company is responsive to the needs of the community and is regularly engaged in dialogue and collaboration with residents and organizations: “We are extremely aware of the needs, that our growth must fuel the growth of all.

As for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, he acknowledges that change “makes people anxious in general,” but adds: “I would say most people would think that the fact that their property values ​​are going up is a good problem. »

He continued: “Over the past decade, no area of ​​the city has experienced faster growth in real estate values ​​than southwest Detroit. Home prices tripled, generating enormous wealth for residents. It is, for me, your best protection against the evolution of the neighborhood.

Renters have not been so lucky, Mr. Duggan said, with some rents in the area having risen sharply.

He said the city received a $30 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build 550 affordable rental units in the area, and other projects including affordable housing were in the works.

Bob Roberts, owner of McShane’s Irish Pub and president of the Corktown Business Association, said he has spoken to more than a half-dozen customers who have left Corktown over the past two years because of rising rents. And while welcoming the station’s renovation, he says his own rent has jumped 30 percent this year. He fears this will continue to increase.

Other developments have followed since Ford’s announcement. A boutique hotel and upscale apartment buildings have been built nearby. And in May, the city’s professional soccer team, Detroit City FC, announced it was building a stadium in Corktown, where it would move from its current home in Hamtramck.

For Mr. Ford, the station is a proud accomplishment and will likely become part of his family legacy in Detroit.

“I remember coming to this station when I was young and thinking it was the grandest building I had ever seen. Over time, it became a symbol of Detroit’s decline,” he said. “Every day I would walk past the station and have a ‘what if’ discussion with myself and say, ‘What if I could find a way to bring it back to life in a meaningful way?’ »

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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