Longtime Academy Cars dealership sells, changes name; a more detailed look at where Panasonic will build its $4B battery plant

Clemons AutoMax is pictured on Nov. 1, 2022.

“Loveee-ly Lawrence, Kansas” is undergoing a scenery change in used car dealers.

After approximately 40 years in business, Lawrence’s Academy Cars — the one with the tag line “in lovee-ly Lawrence, Kansas” — has sold to a family-owned dealership group with operations in Iowa and Nebraska.

Academy Cars, 1527 W. Sixth Street, officially became Clemons AutoMax on Tuesday. Academy has been one of the larger used car dealerships in the city, but the business has been on the market for many months as longtime owners Lonnie and Joyce Blackburn had expressed a desire to retire. In a brief “fond farewell” message sent to customers and others, the couple said they indeed were starting their “well deserved retirement.”

But look for their replacements to operate a similar type of dealership, albeit with a different name. (No word yet on whether the “loveee-ly Lawrence, Kansas” tagline will stick around.)

“We hope to take off where they left off,” Ashton Clemons, a store manager and son of dealership owner Joe Clemons, told me on Tuesday.

Clemons told me his family has been in the auto business since the 1970s, owning a GM dealership in Boone, Iowa. But the family has made a point to expand from that small community into larger markets, including Des Moines, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The family focuses on used vehicles in that market, and that also is the plan in Lawrence.

“Working with people who have less than perfect credit is kind of what we specialize in,” Clemons said.

That also was the focus of Academy Cars. The Clemons family and the Blackburns knew each other for more than a decade through the “For the People” dealership alliance, a marketing service that multiple auto dealerships use to promote their business.

Clemons said his family liked the metrics of the Lawrence community and decided to expand in the market. He said the business plans to carry a similar inventory in terms of size and type of vehicles, and also will continue to operate a full service shop.

“We hope to grow that part of the business,” he said.

Clemons also said the company has kept the same staff of salespeople and service technicians that were working for Academy.

“We think it is an awesome community,” he said.

Or maybe even lovely.


On Monday, we reported that a groundbreaking for the Panasonic electric vehicle battery project in De Soto was set to happen in a matter of days. Come to find out, that day is indeed tomorrow. Panasonic officials have confirmed they will be having a private groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday.

Some of you have asked questions about where the Panasonic plant specifically will be in De Soto, given that most of the time it has just been described as being on a portion of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant property, which is several thousand acres in size.

I recently came across this graphic that planners at the city of Eudora have been using as that Douglas County community prepares for the growth and development the $4 billion Panasonic plant is expected to create. The map does a good job of showing that the Panasonic plant won’t be right along Kansas Highway 10, but the map also does a good job of showing how close the project will be to Douglas County. For reference’s sake, the Douglas County/Johnson County line runs through the area where there is a dot listing Captain Creek Ranch. The Panasonic plant really will be just about a five-minute drive from Eudora.

photo by: City of Eudora

A map shows the area planned for development by Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant.

The map also shows an area highlighted as the Flint Development. Motorists along Kansas Highway 10 have likely seen the early stages of that development. Large amounts of ground have been cleared between Evening Star Road and Edgerton Road on Kansas Highway 10. That has led some people to mistakenly believe that site is where the Panasonic plant will be built.

Instead, the site will be home to the Flint Commerce Center. It is expected to house multiple warehouses to serve Panasonic or other development that occurs in the region. The development group has this conceptual site plan on its website, showing how the property could accommodate five very large buildings ranging in size from about 290,000 square feet to one that would be just more than 2 million square feet. That is a very big building. For comparison purposes, I believe the largest industrial building in Douglas County is the 1.3 million-square-foot building that formerly housed the Kmart Distribution Center in northern Lawrence.

photo by: Flint Commerce Center

A conceptual site plan for the Flint Commerce Center is shown.

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to accurately reflect the tagline of the former Academy Cars dealership.


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