From decades of decay to former glory -- A look at Ford's Michigan Central Station transformation

Crews had no choice but to gut the Michigan Central Station when work started on the piece of Detroit history about 3 ½ years ago.

"When we came in, it had been in 30 years of decay," said Rich Bardelli, who oversees the train station project. "When we got here, there was literally nothing left."

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Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

Ford Motor Co. bought the building in 2018 and started on a project that would include draining out millions of gallons of water, stabilizing the massive structure, and meticulously restoring original features.

Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

With an average of 500 crew members working on the building every day, that process is closer and closer to being done.

"Where we’re at today is the putting it back together, which is really the fun part. We start to see all the work we’ve been doing over the last few years now come together and look and feel like it did over 100 years ago," Bardelli said.

The concourse of Michigan Central Station in 1915. (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

What's been completed inside Michigan Central Station

After years of scrappers and thieves ransacking the train depot, crews were left with little to work with.

"We had to replace everything," Bardelli said.

"Everything" includes wiring, duct work, and plumbing. He said more than 300 miles of new wiring and cable, more than 30 miles of new duct work, and about 6 miles of plumbing have been installed in the building.

Crews work inside Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

Air conditioning was also added. The building, which opened in 1913, never had air, so Bardelli said crews needed to figure out how to install it while still maintaining the historic appearance of the building.

Bardelli said Ford has worked closely with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service throughout the project.

More: Last capital stone installed on Michigan Central Station façade

The process has included restoring original pieces when possible and replacing parts that weren't salvageable.

For instance, a 3D printer was used to recreate pieces that adorn the windows.

"When they’re painted, you can’t tell the difference between this and a cast iron piece," Bardelli said. "When you do that scan, it actually prints every nook and cranny that was in the scan that you had."

An unpainted 3D printed piece next to the original 

He noted that many of the original cast iron pieces were restored, but some were missing pieces that would have been difficult to repair.

So, Ford opted to create the resin copies.

"It saved us time, cost, and weight," Bardelli said.

The unpainted 3D printed pieces

New bricks were also matched to original bricks to ensure they looked how they did when the train station was operational.

"We matched them very closely with the original," Bardelli said.

VIEW: Note from 1913 found inside Stroh's bottle at MCS

In addition to figuring out how to return the train station to its former glory, crews encountered some surprises along the way, namely a sub-basement they didn't know was there.

It was discovered after crews pumped about 2.5 million gallons of water out of the basement.

Bardelli said crews decided the best way to stabilize the building was to fill that 60,000-square-foot sub-basement. Over the course of several weekends last summer, about 12,000 cubic yards of concrete was poured.

When Michigan Central Station will be done

This final phase of the project is focused on finishing up the interior of the building.

Bardelli said there are some major pieces being completed this year.

The ceilings are mostly done, and crews are working on the walls down to the floors. The whole building is ready for new floors.

Inside Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

Elevator cores are also on the way. Once installed, those will take people up to hospitality suites.

Bardelli said crews are on track to have the former train depot ready for tenants by the first or second quarter of 2023.

What you'll find inside Michigan Central Station

While Ford has said since the beginning of the project that it is planning on keeping the main floor open to the public, more details about what exactly that will look like were provided this week.

The first floor of Michigan Central Station will be public and will be used as a community space.

Bardelli said there will be a coffee shop where drinks are served out of the old ticket windows. There will also be small shops.

In the concourse, there will be eating areas and spaced for education. Bardelli said this area could possibly include libraries. There will also be event space.

The concourse of Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

As previously announced, Ford's autonomous vehicle teams will occupy the rest of the building.

MCS will be the anchor of what the auto company envisions as a walkable community between Corktown and Southwest Detroit.

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Artifacts found inside Michigan Central Station (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)