It is rumored that Ford Motor Co.plans to invest $1 billion in its Research and Engineering Center campus. Unnamed real estate sources told Crain’s Detroit Business that Ford issued a request for proposal in November. Crain’s obtained a copy of the RFP which called for the creation of a 10-year master plan for the REC campus. The RFP called for ultramodern buildings, footpaths, relocating workers from other sites to the REC, and energy-conscious infrastructure, according to the business publication..
An inquiry submitted by the Press & Guide was directed to Dawn Booker of Ford Land, Ford’s real estate arm. In an email, Booker said, “We regularly evaluate ways to maintain, upgrade and improve our campus facilities to meet the needs of the business. At this time, there are no specific improvement plans to discuss or announce.”
While Ford may not be going public with its plans yet, earlier this week, the Michigan Strategic Fund board gave it an additional incentive to invest in Michigan. To qualify for the maximum amount of state tax credits, Ford agreed that it would have to spend an additional $3.1 billion over the next 10 years on its Michigan sites. According to the Detroit Free Press, those investments must be “mostly focused on manufacturing” and solely on electric car development. As its name suggests, the REC campus is not a manufacturing site, so it is difficult to know if the tax deal will have any impact on Ford’s plans.
According to Ford’s Media Center website, the Dearborn REC focuses on “advanced electronics, human-machine interface, materials science, big data and analytics.” Although locally-known as the REC, it is one of three of the company’s “Research and Innovation Centers.” The other two are located in Aachen, Germany and Palo Alto, Calif., according to the site.
Barry Murray, director of Dearborn’s Department of Economic and Community Development, said he had not heard the rumor, but any investment in a Dearborn business is good for the city. The REC is located within the triangle of Rotunda Drive, Village Road and Oakwood Boulevard. That location puts it within two to three miles of the John D. Dingell Transit Center and the west downtown Dearborn shopping district. The main entrance to the REC faces that of The Henry Ford on Oakwood Boulevard.
If Ford does invest in the REC, it will only further enhance the city’s existing plans for this area, said Murray. Murray was referring to the city’s 2030 Master Plan, which was published in September. The plan calls for transit-oriented development around the transit center and transitioning the shopping districts into “town centers.” Transit-oriented development and town centers are intended to be mixed-use development sites with “pedestrian orientation.”
Ford’s potential investment in REC is a “fight for an industry,” said Mike Kirk, an architect for Neumann/Smith Architecture and a former chair of the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. Ford’s adversaries in this fight are Silicon Valley tech companies, according to Kirk. “To win the war for the driverless car,” he said, Ford needs the “best IT geeks in the world” to work in Dearborn. Ford knows its “1950s vintage” workspaces will not attract that kind of talent, said Kirk.
A single site overhaul will not be enough, though. Ford needs to “reinvent the home where their R&D gets done,” he said. “Dearborn has the potential to be more cosmopolitan” than Detroit, said Kirk. As evidence, he highlighted the city’s cultural diversity of people, food, and music; its “strong blue and white collar heritage;” its “world class waterway;” and its “greenways.” Most importantly, Kirk said, Dearborn needs to be thought of as a “regional transportation hub.”
The new transit center is creating a buzz, said Jackie Lovejoy, president of the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce. Because of its larger size and new location along Michigan Avenue, people can see how busy it is, and they are surprised, she said. Yet, said Lovejoy, the ridership of 80,000 to 100,000 per year is the same as at the old train station. Lovejoy expects those numbers to increase when the pending high-speed commuter rail, linking Ann Arbor with Detroit, is completed.
Ford’s potential investment in the REC coincides with a real estate awakening in Dearborn. Many of Dearborn’s commercial properties had been “tied up in a four-year bankruptcy,” said Lovejoy. It is only within the last year that they are coming out of receivership, she said. In her two years on the job, Lovejoy said Dearborn has not lacked for interested businesses, but the properties were not available.
Ford’s potential investment would also coincide with Detroit’s resurgence which has been a driver of Dearborn growth, as well.
“To Dearborn’s benefit, there are not enough hotel rooms in Detroit,” said Lovejoy. Since 2012, the number of major conferences in southeast Michigan has nearly quadrupled, said Lovejoy.
Yet, hotel rooms are for visitors. Ford needs workers who want to live in Dearborn, said Kirk. A $1 billion investment at its REC campus may “energize” what some see as a “sleepy community,” said Kirk.
Premier Dan Andrews and treasurer Tim Pallas set up the $2 billion Breakthrough Victoria fund, chaired by former premier John Bracks, as an independent investment