Auto dealer confirms expansion plans on south Iowa Street; new population numbers show Douglas County is definitely getting older
The south Iowa Street car dealers have figured it out. With a plethora of new drive-thru chicken restaurants opening along the corridor, it obviously is easier for me to buy a new vehicle than clear my cab of the hot sauce, chicken buckets and the industrial-strength barrel of degreaser. Indeed, I’m telling you to keep your eyes open for another auto dealership expansion along south Iowa.
For weeks, I’ve been reporting that Briggs Auto has been laying the groundwork for an expansion at the corner of 28th Terrace and Iowa Street, which formerly was home to Jane Bateman Interiors before it moved to 27th and Iowa and to Breathe Oxygen Supply, which is leaving the spot for a new location near Sixth and Congressional Drive.
Exactly what that expansion involves, though, has been tough to figure out. Well, Russell Briggs, owner of the Manhattan-based Briggs Auto Group, has now told me that it will be a major new showroom for his Chrysler dealership.
The building along Iowa Street will undergo an approximately $300,000 facelift to house a used car showroom for certified pre-owned Chrysler vehicles.
This is just the latest in a line of expansion projects Briggs has undertaken in the Lawrence Auto Plaza near 31st and Iowa. Briggs has rebuilt both the Nissan and Subaru dealerships in the Auto Plaza, and as part of that project he moved the Chrysler dealership too. Previously, the Chrysler dealership had high visibility from Iowa Street, but Briggs converted that spot into the Nissan dealership, and the Chrysler dealership was moved farther off of Iowa Street.
The latest project will make the Chrysler brand visible from Iowa Street again. But Briggs said the new car dealership for Chrysler will remain where it is, 2300 W. 29th Terrace. The new location will focus on used vehicles. Briggs said that is the part of the car industry that is the hottest right now. Briggs estimated that his dealership sells about three used cars for every new car sold.
The decision to expand at all, also was a fairly easy one. Briggs said the auto industry has been on an upswing as the country has come out of the recession. During the height of the recession, new auto sales nationally dipped to about 9.5 million units. Last year they had climbed to more than 17 million, which put them ahead of pre-recession levels, Briggs said. Those are sales of new vehicles, which may flatten some, but now the industry is betting on a surge of used car sales.
“We were fortunate to have these buildings come up for sale when they did,” Briggs said. “We have 13 acres over there (in the Auto Plaza), but we never have enough room.”
The new showroom will have indoor space for about 30 cars, Briggs estimated, and will have access to two parking lots for outdoor display space.
The project is the latest of several major renovations to car dealers along south Iowa Street. Virtually every dealership on the corridor has undergone some renovations recently, with the most recent and largest being a complete remodel of Dale Willey’s Chevrolet dealership, which included an entirely new used car showroom in the space that previously housed Payless Furniture.
Briggs said once his Chrysler project is completed in the next several months, he does hope to complete a couple of other smaller projects that involve adding display space for vehicles along the interior roadways that serve the Auto Plaza. That will require some city approvals and the vacating of some right-of-way. But Briggs said he doesn’t have any other large-scale expansions planned at the moment.
“Basically, all we have left to do is sell some cars,” Briggs said. “I think we have done a lot to really create an auto mall atmosphere. It is bigger than it used to be.”
It will be interesting to watch the area in the future. The area just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street interchange could be one that also could add more auto dealerships to the south Iowa corridor. That property, of course, has been proposed to serve as a major retail area for the likes of Academy Sports, Old Navy and other big box retailers. The city has rejected those plans, and as we have reported, the development group has filed a lawsuit appealing that rejection. There is not much new to report on that lawsuit currently, but it still is an active case.
If the city prevails in the lawsuit, though, you may see pressure mount to develop the area for additional auto dealerships. The city’s long range planning document for the area calls for auto-related retail, which certainly includes auto dealerships. Whether the city would fight that type of development is unclear, but we might find out. I’ve certainly heard over the years that there are dealerships that have been interested in the property. Laird Noller Ford and the Lawrence Kia dealership both have their locations along 23rd Street. Whether either of those dealerships are looking to get to south Iowa Street will be something to keep an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Over the weekend I reported on some recently released Census demographics showing the racial makeup of Douglas County. At the time I told you I also would have some new statistics to report on the age of Douglas County’s population.
Well, here’s the summary: The youngest and the oldest of us are growing at good rates in Douglas County, but many of the age groups that make up the working-age portions of the population have been sluggish or outright declined in the past five years.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers, which are for 2015:
— Douglas County’s population zero to 19 years old is up 3.7 percent from 2010. There are now just fewer than 30,000 people in that age group. Our growth rate is better than the two other counties compared against us. In Johnson County, the growth rate for the very young was up 2.2 percent. In Riley County, it actually fell by 3 percent. One interesting note, the population of children zero to 5 years old fell in both Douglas and Johnson counties and was basically unchanged in Riley. Probably lots of explanations for that, including the recession, changes in family structure and perhaps a shortage of Barry White albums.
— If you have ever wondered where all the KU students go after they graduate, apparently, they move to Johnson County. Douglas County’s population of 20- to 24-year-olds is just under 22,000. The age group has grown 1.1 percent since 2010. But that is nothing compared with Johnson County. The 20- to 24-year-old age group has grown by 21.5 percent in Johnson County. Riley County is more similar to Douglas County, although it seems to be doing a bit better at retaining those students. The age group has grown by 3.2 percent in Riley County, which, of course, is home to Kansas State University. One interesting note: In Douglas County the number of males in the 20 to 24 age group outnumber females by 3 percent. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.
— If you have ever wondered what happens when all the college graduates move to Johnson County and become spooked by the youth league soccer games and minivans, well, at least some of them seem to move back to Lawrence. The age group of 25- to 39-year-olds now stands at about 25,000 in Douglas County. That’s up 5.2 percent from 2010. That’s better than the 2.3 percent growth rate in Johnson County. But perhaps there is something magnetic about the smell of a veterinary barn because people seem to be flocking back to Manhattan. The 25 to 39 age group has grown by 14.7 percent. All joking aside, it seems important to understand why that is happening in Manhattan but not to the same degree in Lawrence.
— As a 44-year old man, I’m a bit worried by this one. Aliens or something may be sucking up 40- to 59-year-olds. That age group didn’t grow much in any of the three counties. In Douglas County, that population now stands at about 24,000. That is down 1.5 percent from 2010. In Johnson County, the population only grew 0.7 percent, and in Riley County it was down 0.9 percent. Theoretically, this age group includes some of the highest earners in a community, so growth there could be beneficial.
— Everybody has heard the trend about the graying of America. That’s certainly happening in all three communities, but Douglas County is leading the way with the fastest growth rate of the over-60 population. The over-60 crowd now accounts for a little more than 18,000 people in Douglas County. That’s up 25.1 percent from 2010. In Johnson County that age group grew 23.6 percent, and in Riley County it increased 18.8 percent. One interesting note there: Hang in there, guys. In Douglas County, in the 85 and older age group, females outnumber males 67 percent to 33 percent.
As Briggs prepares to move out of Sears building, rumors heat up that Dick’s Sporting Goods will be moving in
Here’s what we know: The folks at Briggs Auto Group soon will be vacating the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa streets.
Here’s what’s likely to happen: A whole bunch of speculation that Dick’s Sporting Goods will move into the prime piece of South Iowa Street property.
Rumors of a Dick’s Sporting Goods coming to town are nothing new, but there does seem to be quite a bit of smoke with this particular batch of rumors. And you know what they say: Where there is smoke, there’s usually a kid with a half-dozen Roman candles in each hand and a package of Black Cats in his back pocket. (Actually, maybe they only say that in my neighborhood, although no one would hear it.)
The point is, there may be something to the speculation this time. Mike Neyman, general manager for Briggs Nissan, said the landlord for the Sears building has notified the auto dealership that it will need to vacate the premises by the end of the month because a new deal for the building is being processed.
Neyman said the timeline shouldn’t create a problem for Briggs, because the Nissan dealership already has moved into its new facility in the nearby Lawrence Auto Plaza, and work on the Dodge dealership is expected to be done by the end of the month. (More on Briggs’ developments in a moment.)
Multiple sources in the real estate and development industries tell me that a deal has been struck by an investment group to buy the approximately 90,000-square-foot Sears building. The same sources say that the group has a major national anchor tenant committed to the building. The strong speculation is that it's Dick’s, because the company has been scouting for locations in the city.
“Dick’s is the player here,” one source said.
The chain Hibbett Sports also has shown interest in Lawrence over the years, but it is seen as a less likely option at this location because it usually locates in far smaller buildings.
But speaking of size, it seems unlikely that Dick’s Sporting Goods would occupy all of the nearly 90,000 square feet of the old Sears building. According to press reports in other markets, store sizes for Dick’s usually are around 45,000 to 60,000 square feet.
Local real estate professionals say what is likely is that the old Sears building would be split into perhaps two or three spaces, meaning that other new retailers may be coming to the market as well.
I know there was a lot of interest in that type of concept shortly after Sears closed its store in 2012. A development group tried to buy the building at that time, with the hopes of attracting both Dick’s and Old Navy to the location. But negotiations with the Los Angeles-based real estate group that owns the property were difficult. Early last year, Old Navy closed its store on South Iowa, which was where Ross Dress for Less is now located. I’m told Old Navy, at the time anyway, still was very much interested in the Lawrence market, but needed a smaller space to accommodate a new strategic direction for the company. Whether it is still interested in the market more than a year later, I don’t know.
Once all the smoke clears, we’ll see.
All this talk of rumors can get in the way of what actually is happening. The folks at the Briggs Auto Group are nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar effort to remake the Lawrence Auto Plaza just north of 31st and Iowa streets.
Briggs Nissan has moved into its new showroom and dealership facility right at the Iowa Street entrance to the Auto Plaza. You might remember the location as the former home of the Jim Clark Dodge/Chrysler dealership.
As we previously have reported, the Nissan dealership includes an all-new 20,000-square-foot showroom building, charging stations for electric vehicles and a reconfigured lot for outdoor car displays.
By the end of the month, Briggs’ Dodge/Chrysler dealership is expected to move into its new location, which is on the western edge of the Auto Plaza, where 29th Terrace and Four Wheel Drive intersect. It is where the Nissan dealership previously was located.
Both of those projects are in addition to the Briggs Subaru dealership, which was completed last year in the Lawrence Auto Plaza. All told, improvements to the Auto Plaza by Briggs probably are near the $4 million mark at this point.
Neyman says the company recently added what it thinks will become a new South Iowa landmark: a new time and temperature sign that he says is the tallest sign in Lawrence. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know exactly how big we’re talking about. But I know that the Briggs folks like the idea of having an aerial structure that draws a lot of attention. As part of the original development plan, Briggs was planning on adding a wind turbine to the Auto Plaza. Neyman said he thinks that is still in the future plans, but I don’t have any word yet on when that may happen.