$80 million for the train station? Skeptics doubt it.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC.

In the more than 20 years since the trains stopped running at the Michigan Central Station, dreamers and schemers have suggested all sorts of new uses for the depot: a casino, convention center, world trade mart, Detroit police headquarters and more.

Nothing worked. All the ideas were dashed by the realities of renovating a huge ruin of a century-old building remote from the immediate downtown.

So it’s no surprise that skepticism greeted the surprise declaration last week by Dan Stamper, a top aide to train station owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who with his family also owns the Ambassador Bridge, that the Morouns would spend $80 million to fix up the station in coming years.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC. But most developers interviewed by the Free Press said it would cost much more to restore the building to its former glory, with some previous estimates in the $300-million range.

Skepticism arose partly this week because of where Stamper made his revelation — before the Detroit City Council, where he was trying to persuade council members not to sell land in southwest Detroit for the government’s New International Trade Crossing bridge project.

The NITC bridge would siphon traffic and toll revenue away from the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun for years has been trying to block the new bridge. Promising to clean up the train station might have been a bid to win a few votes from a skeptical council.

Skepticism also arose because Moroun, who has owned the train station since the 1990s, has moved at a snail’s pace to renovate it. He has increased security and replaced a few windows but otherwise has left the station pretty much as he found it.

n 2003, when then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced the depot would become the city’s new police headquarters, the project was to have cost $100 million to $150 million. But there were doubters then, too, who said restoring the landmark to service could cost up to $300 million.

Then there are the costs of other, smaller historic rehabilitations in downtown Detroit.

Book-Cadillac Hotel: $190 million.
Fort Shelby Hotel: $75 million.
Broderick Tower: $53 million.
The Broderick is only 200,000 square feet, give or take — Michigan Central Station is almost three times that size.

“Eighty million, to me, is a drop in the bucket for that building,” said Roger Lesinski Sr. of Rochester Hills, one of the partners in the Broderick renovation. “I have no idea what they’ve invested to date in terms of the partial window replacement, but to restore that building and install all the mechanical systems, the heating, the electrical, the elevators, etc., is going to cost a lot more than $80 million.”

Others are more hopeful, albeit cautiously so.

David Di Rita is a principal at the Roxbury Group, which is doing a $92-million renovation of the David Whitney Building in downtown Detroit. Like the train station, the Whitney is one of those 20th-Century Detroit landmark buildings, loaded with jaw-dropping architectural detail and history.

Unlike Michigan Central, however, the Whitney wasn’t destroyed by scrappers, vandals and the elements. So while Di Rita is hopeful, “given the scale and advanced state of deterioration, that price seems a little light.”
Still, he said, “a great deal of good could be done with $80 million to put it back on the path toward being a productive building again. You could probably return the building’s core and shell, shore up its exterior, get windows, basic HVAC, fix up public areas, maybe the concourse. If they were looking to just bring the building back from the brink, that may be enough money.”

But if they’re going to restore the depot’s dazzling décor, Moroun would have to open his wallet a bit wider. When it comes to the ornate plasterwork and marble lining the station’s walls, floors and ceilings, “there is so much damage — and there is so much of it. It would certainly be the most expensive part of the renovation if they can pull it off.

“Most importantly, the building can be restored, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand how well these buildings were built. Despite the neglect and abuse that building has taken, it is absolutely salvageable — and is worth the cost to save it.”

Michigan Central Station by the numbers:

$2.5 million: Cost, in 1913 dollars, to build
$58.9 million: Cost, in 2013 dollars, to build
1913: Year the depot opened, on Dec. 26
1988: Year the depot closed, on Jan. 5
18: The number of floors of the building’s office tower
8 million: The number of bricks in the building
7,000: The number of tons of structural steel used
3,000: The approximate number of employees who worked in the building in the 1940s
4,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1945
1,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1967
74: Number of years depot was in service
$110 million-$300 million: Estimated cost to renovate the building
$5 million-$10 million: Estimated cost to demolish it

Originally posted by: The Detroit Free Press