On June 30, crews of volunteers from Summer in the City began clearing debris from Michigan Central Depot in a summer-long effort to beautify the decaying train station. Photos from the clean-up were posted on Flickr, and news leaked out on different blogs, sparking questions and criticism on the Detroit Yes forums and elsewhere about the use of volunteers, the role of Manuel Moroun, and the project's ultimate aim. As someone who has advocated saving the station, I wanted to learn more. So this weekend, I emailed the organizer, John Mohyi, a Wayne State undergrad and budding Republican politician, to learn the details behind the project. Here are my questions and his responses:
1. What type of work are volunteers doing at Michigan Central Station? How much of the station is being worked on? To what final end? How often and for how long will volunteers work at the station, and what will they have accomplished when the project is complete?
Phase 1 of the volunteer effort has focused on debris removal. In only four days time a mixture of volunteers and employees from the Ambassador Bridge Company (ABC) have been able to clear the two main rooms, a significant proportion of the second floor, as well as many other key areas inside the station. As a result we have filled four dumpsters worth of debris and scrap metal.
I personally will be working on this project from beginning to end. Phase 1 is now nearing completion and we have already began exploring phase 2. Phase 2 consists of removing the broken glass and installing new windows and doors. ABC employees have already began sandblasting off graffiti on the exterior and will continue to do so as we progress. Phase 2 will rely on a more skilled group of volunteers. In addition to the well seasoned volunteers we already have, Home Depot corporate has expressed interest in the volunteer effort and with a little luck will jump on board.
I suspect the Michigan Central Station grassroots volunteer effort will be a never ending community project. Although at one point I hope to see the station completely restored I expect to always see volunteer artists and the youth in general leaving their mark on the MCS for years to come.
2. What is the genesis of the project? In postings online, you have mentioned Senator Brown and a meeting you had with Manuel Moroun. What was Senator Brown's role? What was yours and how are you two affiliated?
It all started when the Detroit City Council voted for an "expedited demolition" of the Michigan Central Station on April 7, 2009. Shortly after I was invited to a Facebook group to save the station. Until that moment I was not aware the building existed. As I scanned the breathtaking photos of the MCS I was compelled to save something beautiful.
I had recognized the situation before. You could sense the passion and the determination to save the station, but the efforts were devoid of leadership. I stepped in and centralized the effort. I started with an electronic petition to demonstrate the massive community support to the station owners, Detroit City Council, and the community itself. Next I created www.SaveMichiganCentral.com as a hub for the grassroots effort. Once I established a solid base of support a stroke of luck put me in the right place at the right time. After a drawn out conversation regarding the MCS, Senator Brown invited me along on a tour of the station with fellow senators, ABC President Dan Stamper, and other high profile individuals. This gave me the opportunity to get the station owners on board with the grassroots effort. Essentially Senator Brown provided the missing piece to the puzzle and has continued to provide his support in any way possible.
3. How is the effort being coordinated and paid for? Why use volunteers?
Summer in the City is the core organization for the volunteer effort thus far. They provided both experience and an established infrastructure that we were able to tap into. The station owner has paid for everything. In addition to all the supplies, they have provided a BBQ for the volunteers, paid for us to go to City Fest, and given us everything we have requested.
To answer your question "why use volunteers?", as a volunteer myself I wanted to be apart of something great. When I look back and see what the Michigan Central Station has become I will be able to say with pride that I helped make that happen. Mr. Moroun may own the station, but at the end of the day it belongs to each each and everyone of us and I feel a responsibility to do my part. As we have progressed I have watched with my own eyes what the people of Michigan are capable of and I want to show that to the world.
4. What is Manuel Moroun's and the Detroit International Bridge Company's specific role in the project? How have they contributed, monetarily or otherwise?
They pay for everything and do everything we ask of them. The station owner's wife also helped us plant 1,000 flowers in front of the station.
5. Is there anything else people should know about the effort?
Visit www.SaveMichiganCentral.com to sign up to become a volunteer.
(Photos provided by John Mohyi and taken by Bruce Griffin.)