Monday, July 02, 2007

All Revved Up

All Revved Up
Fairfield Auto Mall Speeds Toward Expansion
By Shelly Meron/Business Writer

The Fairfield Auto Mall will continue to expand with the planned addition of a Mercedes-Benz dealership next year. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

Car shoppers who visit the Fairfield Auto Mall will have a few more dealerships from which to choose in the future, starting with a new Mercedes Benz dealership.

The new addition - along with a few relocations and some future plans - are part of the city of Fairfield's effort to expand the auto mall, attract more luxury dealerships, and bring in more revenue through sales taxes.

Fairfield City Manager Kevin O'Rourke acknowledged this is not the city's first attempt at expanding the auto mall. But, he said, since starting the effort in 2000 - when there were only three dealerships at the auto mall - the city has made encouraging progress.

"We take pride in the fact that the effort that the staff started with the City Council in 2000 was succesfful," O'Rourke said. "These are huge accomplishments by the staff and the council."

Today, the 23-acre auto mall houses more than a dozen car dealerships, including Acura, Toyota, Volvo, Infiniti, and Chrysler. But getting there wasn't easy.

The process began with the city acquiring much of the land from Busch Properties, which wanted to sell it in one piece rather than parcel out the land to individual dealers in individual sales. The city entered into an agreement to buy the 23 acres from Busch Properties and find existing and new car dealers to buy the individual parcels created by the city.

Luckily, the city was able to quickly unload the property, for a slightly higher price than it paid for it. The extra money went to road improvements in front of existing dealers and other related projects.

The latest addition to the mall - a new Mercedes Benz dealership - will be owned and operated by Paul Halata, a retired Mercedes Benz USA president and CEO, and his son, Mark. The Halatas closed escrow earlier this year on a parcel that will house a 49,000 square-foot building, complete with a two-story, state-of-the-art glass building and a roof-top parking area.

Construction on the Mercedes Benz dealership is expected to start at the beginning of next year, with an anticipated opening at the end of next year. Phase III of the expansion, as the Mercedes dealership is referred to, will also include under-grounding of utilities, new pavements and curbs, new gutters, landscaping, and demolition of an old fire station.

"It's been seen as a huge improvement to that stretch of road," said O'Rourke. "We expect that the residential areas nearby are going to feel a shot in the arm to the area."

An old motel nearby - a hotbed of crime according to city officials - has already been demolished.

"When we bought and demolished the motel out there, we had people calling us and thanking us," said Sean Quinn, director of the city of Fairfield's planning and development department. "It was a high crime public nuisance."

O'Rourke said having a Mercedes Benz dealership in Fairfield will help the city attract more luxury car dealers, and bring in more sales tax revenues.

"The more expensive the vehicle going out the front door, the more sales tax coming in to the city," said O'Rourke.

To make the Mercedes deal happen, some maneuvering was necessary.

Halata wanted to buy an auto mall parcel owned by Simon Buniak, who currently owns a Suzuki/Mitsubishi dealership in Sacramento. Buniak agreed to sell, and is now planning to open a dealership of his own on another parcel near the auto mall.

Buniak said he hopes to begin construction on his dealership - he would not disclose what car make - next spring. He said having a dealership in Fairfield was an attractive idea.

"Fairfield Auto Mall has good visibility from the freeway," Buniak said. "It's strictly auto-related. It's convenient for consumers to go from car dealership to car dealership to complete their shopping."

When asked if he had any other dealerships planned for Fairfield, Buniak said he was "definitely entertaining that possibility."

Other transactions include the move of the Saturn dealership to a parcel on Auto Mall Court, bought from the Ford dealership. Ford built its own new dealership at that location before selling some of the remaining land to Saturn.

Construction on the Saturn dealership is scheduled to begin in the fall and end in the spring of next year, weather permitting. The additions of Ford and Saturn will bring the auto mall's size to 31 acres.

Meanwhile, the Chevrolet dealership on Martin Road was sold and closed escrow in March. City officials said its new owner may add dealerships to that area in the future.

O'Rourke said the city was also waiting for litigation to be resolved relating to the Fairfield Wal-Mart store, which is hoping to relocate to North Texas Street. If that land becomes available, it could be used for more dealerships, but a decision is not expected for another year or two.

But even when all the new dealerships move in and some of the dust settles, the work isn't done for O'Rourke and Quinn. They say after these additions, the city will still have four or five parcels - about 14 acres - available at the auto mall.

A computer-generated image shows what the planned Mercedes-Benz dealership will look like. (Courtesy)

Shelly Meron can be reached at

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