It's been 109 years since the first train departed Detroit's Michigan Central Station

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

More than 100 years after Michigan Central Station opened, the historic train depot is awaiting its grand reopening, this time as an innovation hub for Ford Motor Co.

The building that the automaker has been working on since 2018 has a history full of ups, downs, and uncertainty. 

Framework of Michigan Central Station in 1913 (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

Michigan Central's 75 years of train travel

It all started in 1913. Michigan Central Station was supposed to open in 1914. However, a fire at the previous train station forced it to begin operations earlier.

The first train headed from Detroit toward Saginaw Bay on Dec. 26, 1913. The first arrival was from Chicago that night.

It soon became a bustling transportation hub, serving as a place where many military members coming home arrived, while others departed MCS for their deployments. 

Michigan Central Station in 1955 (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

Train travel would later decline, though, causing problems for the massive building. The station's main waiting room closed in April 1967. It eventually reopened after Amtrak took over the station and did more than $1 million in renovations. This included adding a bus terminal to the building.

Michigan Central Station in 1973. (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

The renovations weren't enough to save Michigan Central. Amtrak left for a smaller building and sold the Corktown train station.

On Jan. 5, 1988, the final train rolled out of MCS to Chicago.

Fall to blight

After its closure, the train depot soon became a haven for scrappers, vandals, and thrill-seekers wanting to see inside the eerie abandoned building. While humans were doing their damage, the elements were wreaking havoc and causing water damage.

It was purchased by a company owned by Manuel Moroun in 1996 but remained empty.

Michigan Central Station in 2013 (Amber Ainsworth)

During this time, many plans were proposed for the space, but nothing came to be. Some suggested making it into a casino or a police headquarters. Others pushed to tear it down. However, it is on the National Register of Historic Places, so it stood, falling into disrepair more and more.

Eventually, new windows and an elevator were installed in 2015.

Check out more Michigan Central Station coverage here.

Michigan Central Station in 2017, a year before Ford bought the building. (Photo: Amber Ainsworth)

A new future

Moroun's company sold the depot to Ford in 2018. As soon as the automaker announced the purchase, construction crews surrounded the building. 

Related: Crews find sub-basement that wasn't on original MCS plans

Ford says the building will house its autonomous vehicle teams, while the main area will be open to the public. 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 spaces for education, as well as event spaces. 

The train depot will also serve as the anchor for a larger mobility campus Ford says is designed to connect neighborhoods and provide a variety of services. 

The project was approached in phases.

The first phase entailed winterizing the water-damaged building. It was also stabilized. 

PHOTOS: Crews discover artifacts while restoring Detroit train depot

During phase two, the mechanical and electrical systems were replaced, and exterior masonry was restored. 

More: Last capital stone installed on Michigan Central Station façade

Phase three, the final phase of the project, has included finishing and restoring the interior of Michigan Central.

Michigan Central Station on Jan. 11, 2022

The opening will also take place in phases, with Ford saying that it should begin to open in mid-2023. 

Interested in leasing space at MCS? Contact staff here.