Moroun confirms Detroit train station sold to Ford: 'Blue Oval will adorn the building'

RK Motors Jun 11 2018

 

  • Michigan Central Station revitalization "part of enormous plan taking in much more than the depot itself," Moroun says
  • Ford to announce its plans for the vacant building and Corktown on June 19
  • Moroun now focused on building new Detroit River bridge

 

Detroit's worst-kept secret is official: The Moroun family has sold the historic Michigan Central Station in Detroit to Ford Motor Co. in a landmark real estate deal that could portend a transformation of Corktown and the automaker's re-engagement with the city where it was founded.

Matthew Moroun, son of billionaire transportation mogul Manuel "Matty" Moroun, confirmed the sale Monday morning at an announcement outside of the long-vacant train station. It has long stood as a symbol of Detroit's decline for the past three decades.

 

Ford Motor Co. is planning an event June 19 at Michigan Central Station in Detroit to detail its plans for the old train station and surrounding area. (Kirk Pinho of Crain's Detroit Business)
 
Ford Motor Co. is planning an event June 19 at Michigan Central Station in Detroit to detail its plans for the old train station and surrounding area. (Kirk Pinho of Crain's Detroit Business)
 
"The deal is complete. The future of the depot is assured. The next steward of the building is the right one for its future. The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit's progress and its success," Moroun said in prepared remarks released exclusively to Crain's before the 9 a.m. announcement.

"The Ford Motor Company's Blue Oval will adorn the building."

Moroun's confirmation of the sale comes almost two weeks after Crain's first reported a Moroun real estate entity transferred ownership of the hulking train station on May 23 to a limited liability corporation linked to Ford through a New York law firm that has done legal work for the Dearborn-based automaker.

The Morouns also sold the former Detroit Public Schools book depository building adjacent to the train station to the Ford-linked real estate holding company.

In Ford, Moroun said, Detroit gets one of its iconic automakers to come back to the city.

"I know that the city was looking for a moonshot with Amazon," Moroun told reporters while standing outside the hulking train depot. "But I think we got what's really fitting for our city."

Moroun declined to divulge the sale price of the train depot and book depository building, calling it "a private matter."

Ford is planning an event June 19 at Michigan Central Station to detail its plans for Corktown and the old train station, spokesman Said Deep said Monday. An invitation that went out to journalists Monday morning said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and CEO Jim Hackett would speak at the event.

"It will be a historic day for Detroit, the auto industry and the future of Ford — the start of a new era of innovation and mobility," the invitation said.

Robert Dewaelsche, president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, said Ford's purchase of the train station, which straddles the area that borders Corktown and Mexicantown, will be "lifechanging" for existing businesses.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime real estate deal that I think is going to have a lasting impact on business activity, on quality of life in the neighborhoods," said Dewaelsche, who attended Moroun's announcement.

The deed transfers followed months of clues that Ford has been laying the groundwork to establish a campus in Corktown — something Moroun alluded to in his remarks Monday.

Matthew Moroun, who as vice chairman has taken over day-to-day operations of his father's businesses, said he first talked with representatives from Ford on Oct. 13. He described the meeting as "the grand development I was looking for."

 

Rehabilitating the decrepit Michigan Central Station in Detroit is expected to be a massive and costly undertaking after the depot has sat vacant since 1988. (Chad Livengood, Crain's Detroit Business)
 
Rehabilitating the decrepit Michigan Central Station in Detroit is expected to be a massive and costly undertaking after the depot has sat vacant since 1988. (Chad Livengood of Crain's Detroit Business)
 
"I knew that this was exactly what the building needed. The golden opportunity for its rebirth. The American second chance," Moroun said. "I also knew that it would not be possible for me and our company to 'co-captain' such a dramatic project. The depot's revitalization would only be part of enormous plan taking in much more than the depot itself. The developer had to be the owner and the user."

Moroun did not say what Ford intends to do with 104-year-old train station, which features a 13-story tower and a 110,000-square-foot first-floor concourse.

Matty Moroun, the recluse and aging 91-year-old trucking tycoon, bought the deserted train station in 1992, four years after the last Amtrack train left the depot.

Over the past two decades, the Morouns have faced blistering criticism for not redeveloping the building as it became increasingly marred by vandalism and decay.

The Morouns resisted calls to demolish the building. On Monday, Matthew Moroun asserted he and his father acted as preservationists of one of the city's most storied and internationally-recognized buildings.

"It's here because we bought it," he told reporters.

To that end, Moroun had this advice for other property owners sitting on other abandoned buildings: "If you hold on and you take care of it — and if it's strategic — you have plenty of reason to be excited."

The Moroun family's Warren-based Crown Enterprises Inc. has said it spent $8 million building a freight elevator in the depot's old smokestack, ridding the building of asbestos and installing more than 1,000 windows in 2015. As part of a land swap deal with the city for the Morouns' long-planned new Ambassador Bridge, Mayor Mike Duggan had prodded Matthew Moroun to make the train station look less like an empty shell for visitors to photograph.

Redevelopment proposals ranging from a trade and customs center to a Detroit police headquarters or new home for Wayne County government offices have come and gone over the years.

Matthew Moroun has previously told Crain's he was holding out for a development that would fit with the character of the building, which he said has financing obstacles to overcome to repurpose the expansive first-floor concourse.

"Although my father and I believed in this building and Detroit, many others did not," Moroun said.

In his remarks, Moroun thanked Bill Ford Jr., who is credited with being one of the driving forcesbehind the company's re-engagement with Detroit. Ford's last employees left the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit in 1996 as the company consolidated its operations in Dearborn.

Crain's first reported March 19 that Ford was pursuing a deal to buy and renovate the train station following the automaker's December purchase of The Factory building at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard, into which Ford employees began moving last month.

"I would characterize the negotiations as respectful and they were not protracted in any way," Matthew Moroun said. "The due diligence of checking out the bones of the building and formulating plans took the vast majority of the time."

With the train station sold, Matthew Moroun said Monday he would now turn his attention to his family's long-fought plans to build a second Detroit River bridge.

Last September, the Canadian government gave a subsidiary of the Morouns' Detroit International Bridge Co. a conditional permit to build a replacement span for the 88-year-old Ambassador Bridge.

 

SOURCE: CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS

AUTHOR: Chad Livengood

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