Ford begins forging a corktown campus crain’s detroit business emitra electricity bill payment

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Ford Motor Co. is in talks with multiple Corktown property owners in an effort that would create a sweeping campus in Detroit consisting of dozens of individual properties, including buildings and parcels of land, in that area, Crain’s has learned.

With the abandoned Michigan Central Station as the campus’ anchor, the Dearborn-based automotive giant is also nearing deals to buy properties ranging from small retail buildings and slivers of land to large warehouses, according to a half-dozen sources who have been briefed on the discussions with property owners.

An announcement of what could be the most transformational Detroit development plan in more than a decade may come May 10, one of the sources said. The other sources were unable to verify that date, which is also when Ford’s annual shareholder meeting is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., but did say that next month is the target.

The project is not set in stone. The Moroun family, which has owned the train station for decades and some of the other properties folded into the plan, are known as tough negotiators, meaning the discussions could collapse and the depot could remain in the family’s hands.

Ford already has revealed its intent to occupy The Factory at Corktown on Michigan Avenue and put 220 autonomous/electric vehicle workers in the 45,000-square-foot building. But close to 50 properties, including the train station and small vacant lots, have been linked to Ford in the five weeks since Crain’s first reported the company’s discussions with the Moroun family.

"We are excited about our return to Detroit this year with our electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle teams relocating to the Factory in Corktown," Dawn Booker, a spokeswoman for Ford Land Development Corp., the real estate arm for Ford Motor Co., said in a statement.

Among them: The Detroit Athletic Co. building on Michigan Avenue, the Moroun-owned former Detroit Public Schools book depository and The Alchemy building on Rosa Parks Boulevard. A series of dozens of vacant parcels immediately north of the Bobcat Bonnie’s restaurant on Michigan Avenue totaling almost 5 acres are also in play.

The train station discussions have continued for months. For the past several weeks , Crain’s reporters have seen workers at the building with scaffolding and a construction platform erected on its western side. A spokesman for the Moroun family said last month that the crews were doing inspections but declined to provide any additional details about the nature of the inspections. The equipment has since been removed.

It’s not known how, if at all, the Corktown campus would impact Ford’s effort to transform its Dearborn headquarters in what two years ago was a planned $1 billion, 10-year effort to consolidate employees and renovate many of its buildings there. If Ford’s plan comes to fruition, the total capital expense could near or surpass that amount; local and state tax incentives would likely be involved.

Detroit-based SmithGroupJJR had completed its work on a master plan for the project, but when CEO Jim Hackett replaced Mark Fields, a team consisting of Oslo-based Snohetta Architects and Detroit-based Gensler was brought in to re-evaluate the plan, according to two sources familiar with the matter who requested anonymity.