Atlantic Cities

Detroit's Famously Decaying Old Train Station Has 5 New Windows and No One Knows Why

Perhaps no building is seen as a symbol of Detroit's struggles as much as Michigan Central Station. The face of American ruin porn, its 18-story tower makes the hollowed-out, decrepit former train station easy to find throughout the city. So some recent, and very minor, additions have locals curious.

Hollowed out and window-free for years, there are now five, yes just five, brand new windows that have been reinstalled in 2013 so far. Windows one, two and three even garnered the attention of the local media in February and March. 

All five new windows on the otherwise window-free structure. Image and graphic by Mark Byrnes

Michigan Central Station in its current state. Image by Mark Byrnes

Often thought of as being abandoned, the building is in fact owned by the locally powerful Moroun family, which includes billionaire and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun
 

Halfway through the year, no one inside Detroit's city hall seems to know what the idea is behind these sporadic new window installations. "We've asked questions, but we've received no specific answers," says Detroit's director of city planning, Marcell Todd. 

Update: The original version of this article stated there were currently no permits for the new window work, per our initial conversation with Marcell Todd on Friday. Todd called us back Monday morning to inform us that the Moroun family had in fact applied for permits in 2011 for basic roof and window work. However, his department is still not aware of any specific plans or timetable the Morouns have for the structure. This article has been updated to reflect the new information.

For the director of planning, the mystery seems to come as no big surprise. "We have an interesting relationship with the Morouns," he says. He and the rest of the planning department will keep waiting for an explanation from the owners who have done little to fix the structure since buying it over a decade ago. "If you don't have to ruffle any feathers now, then you don't," Todd says.

Matty Moroun initially announced plans to fix up the structure in 2011, with minimal work done since. Clues to the building's realistic future may be found on its website, in a post from November titled "Everything is Coming Up Roses!!!" from Nora Moroun:

We are thrilled to see the addition of electricity and lighting. I hope you have all seen and welcomed the evening glow from the station. Work is continuously occurring in the interior to remove debris from the roof and windows in preparation to be replaced. The bids are out and we look forward to the efforts becoming more visible to all the people that have been patiently waiting!

Michigan Central Station stopped serving trains in 1988 with multiple plans to redevelop the building falling through since. The Morouns have owned the building since 2001.

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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