It closed in 1988, and yet, I don’t have a single memory of Michigan Central Station as a place where trains came in and out of my hometown. To me, it has felt abandoned for as long as I can remember. This week marks the return of the iconic Detroit building, as a buzzing hub of activity, and it feels like a victory for our whole community.

The impressive towering structure opened to rail traffic in 1913. At its peak, 4,000 passengers a day came through that station. That was the 1940s. My mom was a child then, and had memories of going to the station. Later she used to laugh, that she had marveled at the 18-story structure and wondered how they got all the trains up there. She thought that made her seem like a pretty stupid kid. I thought it was genius, and it makes me smile and think of her every time I pass the station.

For those who don’t know, it may come as a little surprise that this beautiful architecture was conceived by the same company behind New York’s incredible Grand Central Station. One of the reasons it may be surprising is that most of us have never had the opportunity to step in and truly appreciate its grandeur.

For most of my life, the building was in a steady rate of disrepair. As the city declined, so too did its Corktown guardian. Michigan Central, and other once bustling structures around the city nearly single-handedly spawned an artistic frenzy known as ruin porn. Photographers came from near and far to capture our city’s urban decay on film. As time went on, film turned to digital, and what was once hanging in a studio, spread to millions on social media. Michigan Central Station became the symbol for a city that the world wanted to forget.

I can’t even count the number of times someone would say to me that the train station should just be torn down. One of the many things I love about my hometown, is that it was not. I used to say, that our community is not as quick to tear down buildings we once adored, and that someday I believed it would find its place again. I’m so happy that so many others shared that value and belief.

Of course, the downside to trying not to give up on buildings as they decay, is that it leads to blight. Certainly, that is an ongoing battle that the city is fighting, and lately starting to win. However, when a building is as iconic as that old train station, it also sends a quiet message of belief. To me, it always said hang on, brighter days are coming.

Thanks to Ford Motor Company, those brighter days are here. The automaker acquired the abandoned train station in 2018. It is now the centerpiece of Michigan Central, a 30-acre technology and cultural hub that is adding new energy to Detroit’s oldest neighborhood.

“Michigan Central means a great deal to us all. In many ways, this building tells the story of our city. This Station was our Ellis Island – a place where dreamers in search of new jobs and new opportunities first set foot in Detroit. But once the last train pulled out, it became a place where hope left, said Executive Chair, Bill Ford.

“In 2018, I decided it was time to change that by reimagining this station as a place of possibility again. Over the past six years, Ford Motor Company and teams of forward thinkers, designers, community leaders, and more than 3,000 skilled tradespeople have worked to bring this landmark back to life.”

There were many milestones and teasers along the way. Many of us smiled as we saw lights on inside at night, and then new windows going in. There was the gigantic slideshow and popup market during the holidays. Roosevelt Park, in front, began to brim with new life. Now, the opening is finally here.

It will be celebrated with a party worthy of the accomplishment. Native Detroiters, Diana Ross, Jack White, Big Sean and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are slated to lead an all-star concert produced by Eminem. Hundreds of lucky people have free tickets to tour the incredible old granddad of Detroit. I, am one of them, and I cannot wait to finally step inside.

Belief is a mysterious and powerful thing—never easy and always crucial. It is a rare opportunity indeed when you see the fruits of that struggle materialize in such an awe-inspiring way. Congratulations, Detroit, this victory lap, brought to you by Ford, belongs to all of us.


Author: Lisa Diggs

Lisa Diggs is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, avid traveler, and founder of The Catalyst Company, LLC, Michigan Positivity Project, and Buy Michigan Now.