Construction nears for auto dealerships' moves

CHAMPAIGN — Two automotive dealerships will move to Marketview Drive in Champaign next year, with construction likely to begin next week.

The Ford City Ford-Lincoln dealership will move to a new 56,000-square-foot building at 701 W. Marketview Drive. The Illini Nissan dealership will be immediately to the east in a new 25,000-square-foot building at 615 W. Marketview Drive.

Ford City will relocate from its current location at Carriage Center in the 2000 block of South Neil Street in Champaign, while Illini Nissan will move from 1404 N. Dunlap Ave., Savoy. Both dealerships are owned by Worden Martin Inc.

Once the Nissan dealership moves, Worden Martin Buick-GMC will likely relocate from Carriage Center to the former Nissan building in Savoy, said Charlie Shapland, president and CEO of Worden Martin Inc.

There, it would be adjacent to another Worden Martin dealership, Subaru of Champaign County.

Shapland said he couldn't put a price tag on the Marketview redevelopment project, given that all bids for the project haven't been finalized. But he said it would in the "tens of millions of dollars."

The new dealerships will be on land between Marketview and Anthony drives that was originally occupied by Best Buy and Prospect Mitsubishi. The site is northeast of the Prospect Avenue interchange with Interstate 74 and close to the Market Place and North Prospect retail areas.

Worden Martin has been considering moving some of its dealerships north for five or six years, said Mark Pelafos, the company's chief operating officer.

"Back when we took on the Ford franchise, part of the understanding was, we would build a new Ford facility," Shapland said. "They wanted us to have a new, bigger facility to service the market."

Shapland said it made sense to move the Nissan dealership there as well.

"Nissan isn't represented in Danville or to the east of us, so it opens us to a wider market for Nissan," he said. "Nissan has fewer dealerships within 50 miles, and it's a more accessible location for that brand."

The Nissan facility in Savoy was oversized, the result of General Motors' phase-out of Saturn. But once that facility is remodeled, it would be "sized about perfectly" for Buick-GMC, Shapland said.

He said Worden Martin is working with the village of Savoy on "property layout issues" and if those are resolved, it's likely Buick-GMC will move there.

As for Carriage Center, which was once home to three auto dealerships, Shapland said that site will be redeveloped eventually for a mix of commercial and residential use. He said Worden Martin will likely take down the dealership buildings there in advance of redevelopment.

Construction on the Marketview dealerships is expected to begin next week, with digging for the store footings scheduled to start Monday.

"We hope all foundations will be in before the end of the year," Shapland said, with buildings expected to be completed by Oct. 1, 2013.

Custom Facilities, an Indianapolis-based firm that specializes in building auto dealerships, will be general contractor. The project is expected to use local contractors, labor and vendors.

Shapland said 85 percent to 90 percent of the materials extracted from buildings demolished at the Marketview site will be reclaimed and recycled. Steel and other building materials have been sent to recycling, while concrete and asphalt have been "repurposed" to provide fill for the new lots.

"All the pavement and concrete structure of Best Buy and the foundations have been removed, ground up and recycled back into the project," Shapland said.

About 70 people will work at the Ford-Lincoln dealership, while about 45 will be employed at Nissan.

The Ford-Lincoln dealership is likely to have an inventory of 300 vehicles, while Nissan will have about 150 vehicles, with plans to expand those numbers in coming years.

Ford City will have individual showrooms and staff for the Ford and Lincoln brands, according to Worden Martin. It will also have more room and quieter surroundings for customers waiting for automotive servicing.

The waiting area will have special areas for children, computer work stations and a cafe area.

The Ford dealership will also provide expanded service for fleet and commercial customers. That department will be able to handle large or oversized trucks, police and emergency vehicles, and buses.

Shapland and Pelafos said Worden Martin has been in the fleet and commercial servicing business for some time, but its current facility is "not ideal."

The current facility works on medium-duty trucks, delivery trucks, ambulances and smaller fire trucks, but the new facility will more easily accommodate larger vehicles such as school buses.

"That's going to be a big part of our business as we continue to grow," Shapland said.

Commercial vehicles will have an entry point separate from the retail servicing entrance.

Shapland said infrastructure improvements made for the dealerships should help make adjacent land along Anthony Drive more attractive for retail development.

The former Slot & Wing Hobbies building at 803 W. Anthony Drive has been demolished, and that land is available for development, as is some land along Anthony Drive just west of the dealerships.

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