Home » Rescuing Historic Buildings Is Cooler Than Building New: COTD

Rescuing Historic Buildings Is Cooler Than Building New: COTD

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Our inboxes are inundated with spam every day. The bulk of it is nonsense that isn’t even tangentially related to transportation. Some of the press releases we run into are about how some company somewhere is building a new state-of-the-art facility. Here’s a better idea: Just restore a historic building!

Ford spent $950 million turning an abandoned and dilapidated Michigan Central Station into a building that will host about 2,500 employees. Sure, Ford could have built new, but bringing Michigan Central back from the brink is smart. Not only does it give Ford that necessary office space, but shows that Detroit still has strength. Detroit is taking pieces of history and is renewing them for a brighter future. How cool is that?

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It’s not just Ford, either. U-Haul finds abandoned historic buildings in major cities and restores them. Sure, those buildings become storage and rental facilities, but they’re made useful again. The topshot is what U-Haul did to the National Biscuit Company building in Detroit. U-Haul also saved a Detroit K-Mart!

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I’m with Anxious John here, this was awesome:

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I don’t care what Ford spent to renovate the train station. I am always a supporter of spending money to renovate cultural and historical landmark architectural things such as this.

I feel you, too, Pupmeow:

100%. I’m as jaded and cynical as the next corporate drone, but as a lover of Detroit (and architecture and history) I’m thrilled that Ford put in the effort to revive this building.

Speaking of structures, as David wrote today, gas stations practically bait drivers with pricing tricks. Sid Bridge sees another problem, one that’ll leave you a bit sloshed:

This doesn’t bother me nearly as much as my grocery store trying to give me “fuel points” instead of just, you know, cheaper groceries. Like I’m gonna time my beer run for when my tank is empty. The last thing I need for for my level of alcoholism to be tied to my gas mileage.

Finally, we stop at John Gustin’s report on camping with a Ford Maverick. John, I need to get a look at that camper. I love the way it looks! Also, Spikedlemon is right, don’t be afraid to tow with something small!

I think I’ve towed as large a trailer in a VW Golf. Admittedly, I could really feel the weight, but it towed along happily enough.

I still struggle to understand the tow-culture needing it to be an SUV or Pickup, I recall the other half’s Yaris even having a tow rating when it first came out, similar with early model Smarts. Now? Nothing short of a “truck” seems allowed. (Obligatory note that this rant has nothing to do with EU tongue weights vs US)

Of course, it’s a good idea to stay reasonable. It’s one thing to tow a U-Haul trailer with your Chevy Spark, but don’t try hitching up to the latest from Elkhart, Indiana! Have a great evening, everyone.

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Car Guy - RHM
Car Guy - RHM
16 days ago

The issue with the Michigan Station was it was purchased by the late Matty Maroun and his bridge company and sat on it for years letting it deteriorate. They get around local oversite by getting areas such as this designated as federal rail transportation areas. They tried the same thing downriver from Detroit at the old McLouth Steel Mill, rather then let the area be cleaned up and open up the river front. I’m sure some local and state government officials got some kickback from him.

Ben
Ben
16 days ago

I don’t think it was UHaul, but some people bought an old tire factory in a city near me and converted part of it to storage. As someone with an odd fascination with urban decay it was cool walking in there and seeing the old parts of the building where stuff had been left in the same place it was when the plant closed. Random tools and spray cans sitting on workbenches and stuff like that.

I know they had plans to convert other parts of it to retail space. I don’t know if that ever happened though. I thought they should give tours, especially around Halloween. Not too much is creepier than an abandoned factory at night.

OptionXIII
OptionXIII
16 days ago

If only the same thing could have happened to the old AMC headquarters. If they had demolished the hopelessly outdated factory but saved the beautiful front office, that would have been the perfect hybrid of preserving history while still moving ahead with modern efficiencies.

I’m glad I got to check it out before they tore it down.

Last edited 16 days ago by OptionXIII
PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
16 days ago

I was really pleased to see what Ford did; it’s awesome that Detroit gets to keep such a magnificent building, and that it’s still useful! I love seeing historic buildings not just preserved, but also put to good use. I know sometimes a building can’t be saved, but it’s awful when they’re torn down with seemingly no thought. As an example – I follow various Portland, ME social media groups, and it seems like at least once per week someone posts a picture of the old Union Station, which was torn down to build a freakin’ strip mall. Understandably, it’s a bit of a sore spot for them.

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
16 days ago

I love old architecture but the reality of the situation is it is almost always more expensive to restore and upgrade than it is to rebuild.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
16 days ago
Reply to  Scott Wangler

Counterpoint: Ford couldn’t have bought this much goodwill with billions spent on superbowl ads or whatever other conventional methods are available. Worth every penny.
I just wish someone would have done the same thing for the poor Packard factory before it was too late. Alas…

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
16 days ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

$950 million for to house 2,500 employees comes to $380,000 per. Thats insane but I am glad they are doing it.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
16 days ago
Reply to  Scott Wangler

When you divide it by the service life of the building, it’s a lot better.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
16 days ago
Reply to  Scott Wangler

Well yes and no. If they were to truly rebuild like for like, including all that exterior stone work, the price difference is probably negligible.

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
16 days ago

Average cost for a mid rise office building is between $330 and $870 per sf use $870. Average sf needed per employee is between 150-175, use 175. That means the cost per employee in a regular old office is $152,250, not $380,000. I doubt any office building in Detroit achieves a cost per employee of $380,000.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
16 days ago
Reply to  Scott Wangler

But does the ‘average’ mid rise office building look as good or is built as solidly as this old building that Ford restored?

Not by a long shot.

Hence, it’s not a ‘like for like’ comparison.

Last edited 16 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Cayde-6
Cayde-6
16 days ago

Counterpoint: A modern mid-rise office building is built a HELL of a lot more solidly than an old brick or stone mid-rise, thanks to modern building codes.

And quite frankly, it’s a typical Neoclassical facade. It’s really not that unique.

Last edited 16 days ago by Cayde-6
Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
16 days ago
Reply to  Cayde-6

That’s very true. But the building is also representative of an era when Detroit was the technology hub of the world. It’s great that Detroit has started to reuse these buildings, framing the present and future of the city on the physical remnants of the past.

The facade and design are not unique, but the context of the structure in the community very much is and I think that’s worth the effort.

I see that homes in Detroit are getting restored and as a native son of the city, this makes me very, very proud.

Vee
Vee
14 days ago
Reply to  Cayde-6

I… Wouldn’t a modern mid-rise is built more solidly. It’s built with better tolerances, lesser material variability, and more modularity, certainly. But margins of failure are much much smaller compared to old buildings, because a lot of materials science before the 1960s was just rough math with a large amount of compensation. That meant things tended to be overbuilt rather than built exactly to specification and meant they could survive longer periods of poor maintenance or improper modifications. That’s also what makes them a massive pain in the ass to renovate or modify however, and what makes failure much more devastating when a piece of the structure collapses. A modern building’s steel and concrete core can survive decades while everything hanging onto it rots away to nothing in a matter of years, necessitating replacement of ceilings, walls, floors, and more when the building is reclaimed. That means post-World War II buildings are often just razed and replaced, since by the time property negotiations are over they’ve just decayed into steel frameworks anyways. With those older buildings both the core and everything hanging onto it will survive decades if not a century or more — likely very damaged, but still able to be restored because most of it will still be there.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
16 days ago

The reason so many businesses choose to demolish existing buildings and put up new ones? Those warehouse buildings that are a half-mile long and 40 foot clear are dirt-cheap. Concrete footings and floor, steel columns and beams, and a corrugated steel roof topped with gravel, all surrounded by precast concrete panels manufactured someplace far away. I’ve seen a million square feet go up in mere weeks.
So, yeah, refurbing Michigan Central cost Ford way more than building new, and they should get kudos for it.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
17 days ago

Amen to the Michigan Station project. One of my favorite things about living in Portland, Oregon was the various McMenamin’s properties, most of which were vacant historic or otherwise interesting old buildings that they remade into restaurants, breweries, or even hotels. There’s the Kennedy School (former elementary school) and Chapel Pub (former funeral home, with a keyboardist playing requests on the original organ that came with the place) in Portland, the Grand Hotel in McMinnville, the St. Francis Hotel in Bend (former Catholic school), and many others. I wish there was a development company like them in every city over a population of about 20,000 in the United States.

Last edited 17 days ago by Joe The Drummer
Justin Grady
Justin Grady
16 days ago

As a proud Portland native… definitely always liked what McMenamins did and still does with historic buildings…. I saw the original Charton Heston Planet of the Apes at the Kennedy School Cafetoria drinking beer!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
17 days ago

I’m all in for building rejuvenation, but I’m nervous about U-Hall as a landlord. Something about move in – move out and do it your damn self. Seems to temporary for me…

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
17 days ago

I’ve gone both ways on towing. When we first married, we had an’66 6cyl Mustang w/ autotragic. And a 2.83:1 rear gear. That thing couldn’t pull the foam off a beer and got 15mpg.. everywhere.

Her parents had an unbelievably heavy fiberglass popup tent trailer. I put a frame mounted hitch and a brake controller on it and towed that sucker a few hundred miles. Maybe that’s why it burned a couple of exhaust valves in cylinders 5&6. But the extremely poor fuel distribution from that tiny one bbl carb down the crap cast-in intake manifold surely didn’t help.

Now towing a 6500# 24’ travel trailer w/ a Max-Tow TT 3.5 ecoboost F-150, still get crap fuel mileage, but it doesn’t feel like we are taking our lives into our hands to set out through the foothills and mountains.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
17 days ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

> That thing couldn’t pull the foam off a beer

Beautiful

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
17 days ago

The Detroit train station rejuvenation is a wonderful bright spot in Detroit. It’s massively impressive to drive through Ford’s complex in Dearborn – from the self-promoting village to the automotive museum.
Impressive what one company can do.

Cameron Palm
Cameron Palm
17 days ago

I really wish people had a better understanding of architectural history and construction. Not all buildings can or should be saved. And if people really feel that way, then let’s see the taxes to pay for those costs.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
17 days ago

Seeing the train station go from symbol of Detroit’s peak to symbol of Detroit’s decline to symbol of Detroit’s resurgence is great. It’s a shame that saving and repurposing old buildings such as this is so expensive that you pretty much need either a corporation wanting to make a statement or Uncle Sam showing up with bags of cash or public-secured loans.

If selling pickups for $80,000+ makes it possible for Ford to splurge on projects like this, then maybe I can learn to live with trimflation (for other people who can actually afford it).

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
17 days ago

I agree. Projects like this in Detroit mean so much more than just office space.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
16 days ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

Ya know how automakers have “halo cars”? That’s what this building is for both Ford and Detroit.

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