Moroun asks: What would you do with Michigan Central Station?

From the Detroit Free Press:

The owners of the derelict Michigan Central Station say they want to hear the public’s ideas for remaking Detroit’s most iconic vacant ruin.

The family of station owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun created a website for fans of the old depot to post their ideas,

In the little over a week since the website went live, dozens of suggestions have been posted, everything from “Light it up at night!” to “Downhill mountain bike course” and “Fabulous space for an art museum!”

The website is part of a recent push by the Moroun family to renovate at least part of the train station — and perhaps give the family’s public image a shine, too. The family is paying work crews to remove broken glass and trash, secure windows and fix the roof.

In a statement, Moroun’s wife, Nora Moroun, said the family hopes the landmark station, vacant since 1988, can become great again.

“We believe in Detroit. We believe in its future and that the depot can be a big part of the city’s comeback. That’s why we are investing in this renovation work,” she said.


The ultimate fate of the Michigan Central train station remains unclear, but the cleanup and maintenance work promised by the Moroun family to stabilize the depot continued this week.

Elisabeth Knibbe, a historic preservation architect with the Ann Arbor firm Quinn Evans, said this week that crews have removed broken glass and asbestos-laden putty from the front fa├žade of the station and are working on the other sides. Much of the accumulated trash has been removed from the roof and interior.

It remains undecided what exactly needs to be done to secure the roof and windows, as the Moroun family said they would do last March. But Knibbe estimated that the work so far might total $1 million, and that much more would have to be spent.

“Oh, yes, millions. Absolutely. It’s a big building,” she said.

The Detroit International Bridge Co., owned by Moroun, hired Quinn Evans last May to work on the roof and windows project. Quinn Evans is known for its work restoring historic buildings. Knibbe, a principal at Quinn Evans, is leading the work.

“The first piece of it is just figure out what needs to be done,” Knibbe said this week. “Everything involves doing something more to address the water damage in the building and all the vandalism.”

The train station was built in 1913 from a design by Warren & Wetmore, who also designed New York’s Grand Central Station. Amtrak stopped using the station in 1988 and stopped using a nearby platform in 1994. The Moroun family obtained it not long afterward.

Since then, the station has gained infamy as Detroit’s most notorious eyesore. A casual glance showed that virtually every window was broken, while the interior was a ruin, stripped by vandals and defaced by graffiti.

Critics of Moroun have said that the station renovation work was a ploy to curry favor with the public just as he was battling to stop Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan for a new publicly owned bridge to Windsor, a bridge that would cut deeply into Moroun’s profits at the Ambassador Bridge.

But at least one frequent critic, Gregg Ward, operator of a hazardous material truck ferry between Detroit and Windsor, said he appreciates that the Morouns are working on the train station.

“I think it’s a very positive move (that) they’re taking responsibility for the building and its future,” he said.

The recent work marks at least the second time that the Morouns have tackled a depot cleanup. In 2004, when then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced plans to remake the depot as the city’s new police headquarters, the owners removed trash and cleaned up the station. The police headquarters idea fell through.

The Morouns have complained over the years that the dilapidated nature of the train station is at least partly the fault of the city for not securing a nearby city-owned building through which trespassers enter into the depot.