Moroun making good on cleanup of Michigan Central Station

From The Detroit News


One staggering step at a time, the Michigan Central Station is showing signs  of life.

Fueled by funds from  Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, workers toiling since early spring have  removed tons of debris, broken glass, caulking and asbestos from the derelict  building.

While workers do the grunt work, architect and feasibility experts are  constantly on-site, evaluating the future of the once-elegant structure off  Michigan Avenue in Corktown.

“Can it be saved? Of course,” said Elisabeth E. Knibbe of Ann Arbor-based  Quinn Evans Architects.

“Structurally, the building is very sound. I’ve seen buildings brought around  that were in much worse shape than this. I’m confident it can be saved.”

But after decades of neglect, why now?

Some suspect it might be a publicity stunt by Moroun to win the public over  in his fight with the Michigan Department of Transportation over its plans to  build a bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

Joe Rashid, who lives on 24th Street behind the station, questioned Moroun’s  motives but is keeping his fingers crossed.

“I guess the true test will be after a vote on the New International Trade  Crossing,” said Rashid, 30.

“If he continues working on the building after the vote, then I guess he’s  being genuine for once.

“I love the station and think it can be saved, but how much better off would  it be if it hadn’t gotten into this condition in the first place?”

Phillip Cooley, owner of the popular Slows Bar BQ, dismissed those rumors.

“I’ve heard that talk, and I think the Morouns are smarter than that,” Cooley  said.

“New windows and a new roof won’t do it. I think Nora Moroun (Matty Moroun’s  wife) has a real affinity for the building and is also looking at the family’s  legacy.

“Personally, I’m very excited about what’s going on over there.”

Preservation plan

The Morouns purchased the 18-story depot in 1996 and have since faced  unrelenting criticism for letting it fall into disrepair, even though trains  stopped running there in 1988 and it was already in decline.

“We decided that we weren’t going to tear it down, instead we were going to  preserve it through a multi-level approach,” said Matthew Moroun, the son of  Matty Moroun.

“In order to preserve it, we have to clean it up, replace the windows and the  roof to keep water out  of the building. We also intend to secure it to keep people out.”

Since the spring, the family said it has spent nearly $1 million on  preservation efforts.

“We’re closing in on a million pretty fast just for cleanup, removing the  broken glass, asbestos and caulking,” Matthew Moroun said.

“We expect it will take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to get to the point  where we can take a realistic look at what can be done with the building.”

Knibbe said there is no set timetable for installation of the new glass and  roof.

“Measurements have to be taken, glass has to be ordered plus we’re still  clearing debris from the roof,” said Knibbe, who helped restore the Fox Theatre,  Fort Shelby Hotel and old Wayne County Courthouse.

Majestic concourse

A look inside the depot generates awe paired with a Pompeian sense of history  and former grandeur.

The concourse — now marred with graffiti and scarred by vandalism — is vast  and majestic. Marble arches support a vaulted ceiling more than 60 feet high  before leading to a hall that housed a ticket office and shopping arcade to  accommodate as many as 4,000 travelers who once arrived there daily.

Bathed in shades of black, white and gray, the interior is a good 20 degrees  cooler than outside and the wind whistles in through hundreds of glassless  windows.

The depot, whose construction began in 1913, was modeled after the Roman  Baths of Caracalla, circa 212 A.D.

In a case of history repeating itself, those baths were also sacked and  destroyed by vandals, but in the year 600 A.D.

The terminal “was designed by the same firms that designed Grand Central  Terminal,” said Scott Griffin of the New York City firm of Ramscale Inc., which  is doing a feasibility study on the use of the train depot.

“This building is the holy grail of those who are devoted to historic  preservation.”

Knibbe and Griffin said they see huge potential in the station and in the  city.

“Both are a blank canvas,” Griffin said. “For decades New York was the center  of creativity, but New York is over.

“Real estate there is so expensive that it’s impossible to take risks, so it  has become a place that just sells things, like Singapore.”

Griffin said Detroit has the infrastructure, the work force and a low cost of  living.

“I believe Detroit will be the next New York,” Griffin said.

In the long run, Griffin and Knibbe said they see artists, businesses and  perhaps even residents occupying the building.

“The view from the upper floors, including the roof, is spectacular,” Knibbe  said.

“You can see all of Detroit, the Ambassador Bridge, the river and Canada.  It’s unbelievable.”

‘Encouraging step’

Dan Lijana, spokesman for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, said upgrades at the  terminal are “an encouraging step.”

“The city needs all property owners to be a partner in eliminating blight and revitalizing neighborhoods,”  Lijana said.

One longtime Moroun critic, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib — who represents  southwest Detroit where the station is located — said she welcomes efforts to  revive the building.

“I, along with a lot of residents, have been longing for something like this  to be done with the building,” Tlaib said.

“Residents have complained that blight brought crime into the area and has  made Roosevelt Park, which is right in front of the building, unsafe sometimes.  While we welcome redevelopment, I’m just sad that it took years of screaming to  do it.”

Tlaib said she hopes the Morouns will institute neighborhood meetings to  garner ideas for the building from residents.

“I would urge them to also work with local artists to renovate the building,”  Tlaib said. “And I hope they focus on local help to renovate the building.”

Matthew Moroun said repairing the building will be a long and costly process.

“There’s no silver bullet for the building,” Moroun said. “That’s a dream.”

Amid all the graffiti in the concourse, one faded graphic did express a  dream.

From The Detroit News:–Moroun-making-good-on-cleanup#ixzz1W4SRvRq5