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Detroit's Iconic Train Station Is Roaring Back

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Lately, Detroit has had some positive headlines. Its bankruptcy is in the rearview mirror and businesses are moving back downtown. Ford Motor Company is adding to the good news. The automaker has bought Michigan Central Station, a symbol of Detroit blight that Ford is planning to transform into a symbol of rebirth. Here's Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: It's impossible to overstate how happy Detroiters are to see one of their biggest embarrassments about to be transformed to a point of pride, a once breathtaking building vacant and vandalized for decades. Julian Bibb is among the hundreds who came to Ford's event today. Bibb says this is family history for him.

His grandmother arrived at this station in 1968 from Birmingham, Ala. He was one of the many who snuck in to take photos of its ruined beauty decades later.

JULIAN BIBB: This city isn't about to be known more than just a place of ruin and decay. It's about to be a metropolis again.

SAMILTON: The ghostly corridors of Michigan's Central Station became infamous the world over - from ruin porn photograph exhibits, to movies like "Batman versus Superman" and "Transformers." It's a big deal, not just for Detroiters, that after all these decades of neglect, it will be saved and rehabbed. Bridget Zukas drove here from nearby Grosse Pointe. She thinks this could be a turning point for the city.

BRIDGET ZUKAS: Trying to get people to come and relocate to Detroit. And this is supposed to be a technology center. Why wouldn't this be anything like what they have in Silicon Valley and attracting the younger people to come back?

SAMILTON: Local artists poured on the Detroit pride today from rapper Big Sean to the Detroit Children's Choir to cellist Joshua McClendon. And the beaming Bill Ford says it's one of the proudest days of his career. He remembers being awed by the station as a boy thinking nothing in the world could be so grand.

BILL FORD: But once the last train pulled out, it became a place where hope left. As parts of Detroit hollowed out, so did this station.

SAMILTON: Ford says Michigan Central Station will once again welcome the public with a renovated grand lobby, with places to shop or meet for coffee. About 2,500 Ford employees will move into it or nearby buildings that the company has recently bought. Many hope that Ford's move will now revitalize the city's West Side, matching the growth in the East Side downtown. That's a few years out.

While it doesn't help the city's struggling school system and still suffering neighborhoods, a city doesn't come back without hope. And Ford seems to be giving Detroit a big dose of it. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.