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  • Jason Tuvia

Ford to Build High-Tech Campus as Cars Evolve

Automaker, a Major Real Estate Owner, to Showcase Electric Bikes, Scooters, Shuttles

One of America’s pioneering automakers, started at the dawn of the 20th century, is tapping some of its more than 5 million square feet of usable commercial property in greater Detroit for a campus aimed at capturing 21st century trends. That means its key product, the automobile, is taking something of a back seat to other forms of transportation in its design.

Ford Motor Co. seeks to prompt collaboration for thousands of its designers, engineers and product development workers who will maneuver around the campus on electric bikes, scooters and shuttles. And the site is expected to evolve over time along with autonomous vehicles and other transportation.

Ford plans to build a 2.2 million-square-foot building at its campus north of Detroit in the suburb of Dearborn to help the company speed product and technology innovation and attract top talent, according to a statement. The initial phase is expected to be complete by the end of 2022, with the building finished by 2025. Plans also include adding public spaces, pathways, restaurants and coffee shops available to the public.

The move shows how major corporations are also major holders of commercial real estate that can be activated to allow a variety of office or industrial construction. For companies that are major employers in a region, such as Ford in Detroit, these real estate holdings also can be used to spur economic development.

The almost 70-year-old campus on Oakwood Boulevard is currently home to 11,000 engineers and designers, and is located near Ford's headquarters building on Michigan Avenue. The new campus solidifies Ford's presence on Michigan Avenue, where it is spending $750 million to redevelop the formerMichigan Central Station, a former key passenger rail depot, in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood into a 1.2 million-square-foot innovation campus focused on autonomous and electric vehicle businesses.

Ford is also building a 140,000-square-foot robotics research building at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, according to a statement.

All of Ford's plans are part of its effort to “reinvigorate southeastern Michigan as a global hub of innovation for transportation,” according to a statement.

Detroit's economy was largely built around the automotive industry as those companies thrived in the early- and mid-1900s. Ford Motor Land Development, the real estate arm for Ford Motor, said it owns and manages more than 5 million square feet of usable space in the Detroit area.

The Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta is leading plans for the Dearborn project. Information about other contractors, as well as costs associated with the campus, were not disclosed. Ford plans to house 6,000 employees in the new building.

Ford designs and makes cars, trucks, SUVs, electrified vehicles and Lincoln luxury vehicles and is working on products such as self-driving and flying cars and scooters. The company recently opened its first Ford Smart Lab, a small retail store, in Brussels and plans to open other stores in Germany and Canada this year.

There are several projects underway that seek to revitalize the Detroit area. Such projects include Mahindra Automotive North America’s consideration of the former Buick City site in Flint, Michigan, which is about 55 miles northwest of Detroit, for its second U.S. manufacturing plant that could create upward of 2,000 jobs over the next several years.

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