Something seemed extraordinarily disingenuous on Monday morning as Matthew Moroun, son of "Matty," held a press conference in front of the Michigan Central Station in Detroit's Corktown to announce the sale of the symbol of Detroit decay to the Ford Motor Co. for a new tech campus.
The Moroun family, which has owned the shuttered train station since 1996, became the equivalent of slum landlords, letting the ugly, monstrous eyesore decay for years as they waited and waited for the opportunity to cash in. Little was done for many years to mitigate the ugliness.
Meanwhile, it was the perfect backdrop for every out-of-town TV reporter to stand in front of to show an industrial Midwest city on the decline.
So, perhaps it was a bit hard to swallow when Matthew Moroun on Monday tried to paint himself and his dad as great visionaries who were waiting for their prince charming to revive the grand structure.
"The depot had become a symbol of Detroit's troubles," Moroun said. "Although my father and I believed in this building and Detroit, many others did not. The New York Times labeled it an iconic façade as an example of how far the city had fallen. The past Detroit City Council members in 2009 voted, resolved and ordered its demolition. At least one of our major Detroit newsapers published an editorial advocating the leveling."
"My father and I were quite alone, left only with a positive long-term vision that no one else could see."
Visionaries, the Morouns are not. When it comes to Detroit, many could easily argue folks like Dan Gilbert are. The Morouns, no, sorry.
By the time they consumated this deal with Ford this year, Corktown had become one of the hot real estate areas in the city. It doesn't take a visionary to cash in at the most obvious moment when even those lacking any vision can stumble and trip over a pot of gold.
Want to talk about visionaries. Slows Bar-B-Q opened in 2005 on a pretty empty stretch of Michigan Avenue in Corktown, not far from the station. By 2012, according to a story in Model D, the area included an upscale coffee shop, a classic cocktail bar, a boutique inn and a burger restaurant.
Even if the Morouns had come up with a plan six years ago, they might have been given some credit for having vision. Putting in new windows, as they did in recent years, hardly qualifies.
Years ago, they could have come up with a plan: Perhaps apartments with retail? Or a train station with retail?
But for 22 years, there was pretty much nothing until this grand opportunity with Ford all but fell in their lap, or as Matthew put it: "Development in the downtown was spreading our way."
Smart businessmen? Perhaps.
But visionaries? No.