Blog: Rebecca Binno Savage

It is the work of a historic preservationist to keep buildings out of the graveyard. Well-known preservationist Rebecca Binno Savage, a project manager with AKT Peerless Environmental and Energy Services, has written the book on Detroit area Art Deco architecture. This week, she digs into a few vintage buildings and builds a case for their resurrection.

Post 2: How About That Train Station?

When someone asks me what my job is, and I answer that I work in historic preservation, the next likely thing that person will ask me is – "How about that train station?"

Yes, how about it.  The Michigan Central Station is without question the biggest historic preservation issue in the city of Detroit.  The alert reader of Metromode will already know that the Michigan Central Station is not owned by the City of Detroit, but by a private individual – in fact, a billionaire – who has ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.  He purchased the Michigan Central Station in order to land bank property and obtain controlling interest of sites that could someday assist in the development of his transportation empire. 

Does the fact that a huge vacant hulk is sitting on the property bother him?   I doubt he looks at it every day.  But people who drive the nearby stretch of I-75 and I-96 sure do.  People driving down Michigan Avenue see it.  People who live in Southwest Detroit see it every day.  So the fact that it sits vacant and trashed is an affront and insult to everyone who has to look at it.  

What to do?   While it is simplistic to look at the building today and give up and say "forget it" I think there are better solutions.  I agree that the Michigan Central Station will never again look like it did when it opened in 1913.  It won't look like it did when it closed in 1988.  But we need to acknowledge that the train station is a significant landmark in the city of Detroit, and worthy of preservation.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it is an iconic work of architecture in the Midwest.  To demolish the Michigan Central Station would be yet another national news story that would throw Detroit into yet another negative spotlight.  

But imagine the spotlight and publicity if Detroit saved the train station. Or reused it as a sustainable resource that benefits the environment.  It is time for our governmental entities to work with the property owner to form a public/private partnership that searches for a solution.  Do we hold a creative design charrette and then chose from the best solutions?  Do we ask for responses from a nationally advertised Request for Proposals (RFP)?  Or maybe we look at the work that grass-roots nonprofit organizations have been doing.  

The Michigan Central Station Preservation Society is a newly formed nonprofit organization that has been working hard to clean up the property, with the owner's permission.  It has a terrific Facebook following and has held some very successful events and made excellent contacts.   You can personally help out and get involved here.