Mar 9, 2023 - News

Michigan Central becomes State of Detroit's main character

The front of Michigan Central Station.

The front of Michigan Central Station in Corktown ahead of the State of the City speech. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

In Mayor Mike Duggan's 10th annual State of the City address Tuesday night, he pushed against tax incentive criticism while pledging to improve safety and neighborhoods.

Yes, but: Like so many cinematography-heavy films, the event's main character was not a person — but its setting.

  • Michigan Central Station, the once-crumbling relic Ford has been renovating since 2018 as part of its 30-acre, $950 million Corktown mobility campus, has become an obvious symbol of renewal.
  • Its future may exemplify the effectiveness and equity — or lack thereof — in Duggan's strategy of incentivizing big businesses to fuel revitalization.

What happened: Duggan orated into the vast room where people used to sit and wait for trains, the barrel-vaulted ceiling looking fresh and clean, while other details of the space were hidden by big black curtains ahead of the automaker's reveal of its handiwork.

  • Josh Sirefman, CEO of Ford's Michigan Central innovation district, spoke excitedly about people finally in the building who were not "wearing hard hats and safety goggles."
  • The finished product was kept under wraps, with general media prohibited from taking photos inside.

What they're saying: The depot was used by national media as an image of Detroit's downfall after it filed for bankruptcy in July 2013, Duggan said.

  • But 10 years later, he now expects to invite the so-called naysayers for the opening of Roosevelt Park in front of the train station this July, when he says "this site is going to be the center of one of the most exciting cities in all of America."

The big picture: Ford could have picked California but chose Detroit — who some have optimistically dubbed the "next Silicon Valley" — to center these operations.

  • Duggan appears to see Ford's Michigan Central gambit as a crowning achievement of his tenure.

Between the lines: The project garnered hundreds of millions in tax incentives, which are highly criticized. Duggan sought to prove their necessity in his speech, including for District Detroit's recent $1.5 billion development plan.

Reality check: Scott Holiday, political director for activist group Detroit Action, tells Axios he thinks Michigan Central could be an opportunity. But what he didn't hear from Duggan is "how it's going to be inclusive and how we combat together the corrosive effects of gentrification that often follow these types of development deals."

What we're watching: As well as the historic building's reopening date, we're also still waiting to find out who the tenants will be for its publicly accessible areas: restaurants, a luxury hotel, coffee shop and food court.

  • Who gets to lease space there is significant, as activists have concerns about the development pricing out longtime businesses and residents.

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