Ford taps Project Alphabet co-founder as Michigan Central CEO

Ford Motor Co. announced a chief executive Monday to lead Michigan Central, the mobility district the Dearborn automaker is developing in Corktown, anchored by Michigan’s former Central Station.

Joshua Sirefman, 54, co-founder and former president of New York-based Sidewalk Labs — Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.’s smart city projects — was tapped for the role. Its main task: “to advance the neighborhood’s vision and execute a plan that leverages placemaking, cross-sector collaboration and real estate development to promote innovation and inclusion,” according to a press release.

In addition to leading district development, Sirefman will lead Michigan Central’s Innovation Services business, which includes overseeing the program established by the project’s “founding members” – so far, Ford and Google – and d other public-private partners, according to Ford. . Sirefman will be responsible for recruiting new talent to campus and coordinating governance and reporting.

Sirefman will also help oversee Michigan Central’s new philanthropic arm, the Michigan Central Foundation.

“Joshua is the ideal person to lead the development of Michigan Central,” said Mary Culler, chief development officer of Michigan Central, chief of staff to Ford executive chairman Bill Ford and chair of the Ford Fund, in a statement. “His experience in mobility, development planning and community engagement – ​​which was particularly important to us – will be essential in helping to guide the team and partners in the district on the path to meaningful innovation that really helps to create a more accessible future for all. »

Sirefman also served as Development Manager for Sidewalk Labs and, most recently, Senior Advisor. Sidewalk Labs announced in December that it would be integrated into Google after its founder and CEO stepped down for health reasons. The Urban Innovation Initiative’s flagship project was an effort to create a “smart neighborhood” in Toronto that did not come to fruition, according to media reports.

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Prior to co-founding Sidewalk Labs, Sirefman started development services company Sirefman Ventures. The company led Cornell University’s successful bid to attract a new applied science graduate program to New York, Ford noted in a press release. Sirefman also served on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s economic development team and oversaw development in the United States for real estate management firm Brookfield Properties.

In a statement, Sirefman said he sees Michigan Central “and the work developed and piloted here living at the crossroads of physical, social and economic mobility. As an open platform welcoming all to break new frontiers of innovation on all three fronts, we have an exciting opportunity to be a world-leading place of impact – starting in Detroit communities and expanding outwards.

The district will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary – the new Michigan Central Innovation District LLC – of Ford. This entity will oversee operations and initiatives related to the 30-acre district.

Google was recently announced as a “founding member”, along with Ford, of Michigan Central. Although Ford is leading the redevelopment of the iconic former train station and surrounding area, the company emphasized that Michigan Central will not be a Ford campus, but a collaborative neighborhood where startups and established businesses will develop and test products and services from mobility.

Michigan Central leaders also recently announced a public-private partnership with the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit that will include additional financial support for the project and the creation of a Transportation Innovation Zone in the district where the city would speed up approvals to allow companies to pilot mobility technologies.

Google’s involvement will focus on workforce development for local high school students and job seekers. The California-based company will also provide cloud technology for Michigan Central’s mobility projects.

Sirefman is originally from New York but has some experience working in Detroit, according to a press release. He created and managed a program through the non-profit community redevelopment organization Islandview Village Development Corp. and co-designed a citywide industrial retention program as a member of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

Restoration of Michigan Central Station is expected to be completed next year. Overall, the nearly $1 billion development includes 1.2 million square feet of retail space.

Ford purchased the long-abandoned old station in 2018 and has since been working on a project that, in addition to redeveloping the station into offices, retail stores, event space and a hotel, includes construction of the neighborhood that will be primarily open to the public. . The adjacent Albert Kahn-designed Book Depot building and the 1,250-space Bagley Mobility Center are scheduled to open this summer.

Ford expects to have about 2,500 employees based at Michigan Central, with the rest of the employees on campus coming from other companies.

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Twitter: @JGrzelewski

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