Auto dealership on south Iowa Street files plans for expansion; a look at how much auto dealers paid in taxes

If my kids come into the TV room and find me crying, there are usually two possibilities. The batteries in the remote control are dead again, or, more likely, I’ve just watched a Subaru commercial.

You know the ones I’m talking about: There’s an innocent child running around a Subaru and then, boom, the camera angle changes and they’re all grown up and driving. To top it off, there is a dog that used to be a spry puppy and now he needs help jumping in the car. Meanwhile people are yelling at you because you’re leaving snot on the couch pillow, and you’re babbling “I just wanted to watch a football game.”

Whether it is those commercials or something else, Subaru sales are soaring, and the result is a dealership expansion along south Iowa Street. Briggs Auto Group has filed plans at City Hall to expand its Subaru dealership in the Lawrence Auto Plaza, which is just northwest of 31st and Iowa streets.

Briggs plans to add about 5,300 square feet of space to its Subaru dealership at 2233 W. 29th Terrace, increasing the size of the dealership by about half. Bobby Lubbers, general manager for Briggs Auto Group in Lawrence, said the expansion would double the size of the dealership’s service department, add a larger parts department and refurbish the customer lounge.

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“Our business has just gotten to the point that we can’t handle the numbers anymore,” Lubbers said. “The Subaru business is just going crazy right now, and that is nationwide.”

The Subaru expansion still must win site plan approval from city planners, so construction hasn’t yet started on the project. However, you may have noticed another construction project at the Briggs complex.

Work is nearly complete on a used car showroom right along south Iowa Street. As we have reported, Briggs bought the building that housed Breathe Oxygen Supply at 2851 Iowa St. (That company has since moved to west Lawrence.)

For several months now, Briggs has been remodeling the building, and Lubbers told me the building will be used as an indoor used car show room. All the Briggs dealerships — i.e., Dodge, Subaru, Nissan and others — throughout the auto plaza have used cars as part of their inventory. That will continue to be the case, but Lubbers said the company needed a facility that focused only on used vehicles.

“You have an oversupply of used cars on the market right now,” Lubbers said. “There are a lot of cars coming off leases right now, and dealers are going to be pretty resourceful in moving them.”

Lubbers said the building would have space to display about 60 vehicles indoors and many more in the parking lot. Speaking of the parking lot, that may be one for environmentalists to keep an eye on. The lot is using the pervious pavers instead of traditional concrete or asphalt. Those are cement blocks that are designed to let rainwater drain through the block instead of running off into the storm water system. This certainly isn’t the first time those pavers have been used in Lawrence, but you don’t often see them on high-profile commercial projects. It will be worth watching to see how they hold up and look after being in use for awhile.

Lubbers said the used car showroom was about three weeks away from opening.

The Briggs projects are just the latest in what has been a busy few years for auto dealership remodeling and expansions in Lawrence. Local auto dealers now are doing a little bit of work to remind the community of the impact they’re having on the local economy.

Dale Willey, who is retired from the GM/Chevrolet dealership that carries his name, recently gave me a copy of a report that shows total taxes paid by the six new auto dealers in Lawrence.

In 2016, the auto dealers paid about $1.2 million in real estate taxes and collected about $18.2 million in sales taxes for the year. About $5.1 million of those sales taxes went directly into the coffers of the city of Lawrence and Douglas County, while the rest went to the state of Kansas. The report also estimates the dealerships employ 435 full-time employees.

As the city thinks about economic development issues, one issue to consider is whether there is room for another auto dealer in Lawrence. Most of the major brands are represented in Lawrence, but not all. Some of the luxury brands don’t have dealerships in Lawrence. That market has pretty much been the domain of Kansas City, but interestingly Topeka does have a BMW dealership now. In addition to BMW, there is Mercedes, Lexus, Volvo, Audi and several other brands that don’t have a presence in Lawrence.

It may be a stretch for Lawrence to land some of those, but it does appear the payoffs are pretty good for an economy that relies heavily on sales taxes. The numbers from the 2016 report indicate that the average new car dealership in Lawrence pays about $200,000 in property taxes and generates about $850,000 in new sales taxes for the city and the county coffers.

And, thus far, car dealerships haven’t sought economic development incentives — tax breaks — from the city.