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Corktown: Will Ford's move transform inner-city neighborhood, and with it Detroit?

Allie Gross, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Home and Consumer News

DETROIT -- In 1979, Jerry Esters was working on the roof of a property he had inherited from his father in North Corktown when he had an epiphany: He could see downtown. First the train station, then the downtown skyline.

The property at 14th and Perry had been in the family for years, but as Esters sat perched on the shingles, he couldn't help but marvel at just how close he was to the heart of Detroit.

"It was like, right there, and you didn't have to go anywhere to see the fireworks. You could be right there and see them," the retiree, who worked as a clay sculptor at Fiat Chrysler for 33 years, said Tuesday.

It was in that moment that Esters realized he had to begin investing in the neighborhood. He had to preserve his family's properties. He had to work to refurbish and maintain anything else he could get his hands on in the community that he had grown up in. A community that was cratering under disinvestment.

"I was making good money so I just kept buying up buildings as they came up and became available," said Esters.

Today, the 56-year-old owns seven buildings in the neighborhood -- six properties on 14th Street between Temple and Perry and a two-family duplex on the corner of Vermont and Temple -- and 30 lots.

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Esters' foresight to invest in the neighborhood was underscored Monday when it was officially announced by Matthew Moroun that the iconic and long-vacant Michigan Central Station that his family picked up at a tax auction in the 1990s had been sold to Ford Motor Company.

"With Ford coming, to me what that says is that the city is turning around big-time," Esters pronounced, adding that he is most excited to see downtown Detroit's boundaries expand.

"Downtown used to stop at the Lodge; now it's going to expand to where the train station is," he said. "It's going to be a lot of little things that are going to add up and make downtown more like Chicago -- a bigger downtown."

News of Ford's purchase of the derelict but seminal train station and its purchase and renovation of an old factory on Michigan that now houses Ford high-tech workers, has not only re-ignited discussions about the future of Corktown, it is resetting the image of what Corktown can be.

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