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    Dealership moving to Pinellas Park

    By ANNE LINDBERG

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 5, 2001


    With the city agreeing to waive $90,000 in fees, and with the sweet prospect of a Wal-Mart supercenter as a neighbor, Crown Honda plans to move to Pinellas Park early next year.

    "We feel in the long term we're best served by being in Pinellas Park," said James Myers, chief operating officer of the Crown Dealership Group, which has 12 automotive franchises in Pinellas County.

    Construction on the new location at 7671 U.S. 19 N should begin within the next 90 days.

    The site, which Crown has owned for several years, is the old Easter Seals building. It's adjacent to the Florida Highway Patrol Building and across from Bob Evans Restaurant. The supercenter will be nearby to the north.

    Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said he thinks Crown is the first of many businesses that will want to move near the supercenter.

    "I believe we're going to see a lot of redevelopment in that area with that Wal-Mart," Mischler said. "We want controlled, nice growth."

    Construction is expected to cost about $4-million.

    When completed, the 30,000-square-foot building will be able to house about 400 cars, with 300 of those being new models.

    The new location will be larger than the current dealership at 5500 34th St. N in the Lealman area of unincorporated Pinellas County. Much of the additional space will be used for display, which is limited at the current location, for a larger inventory of cars and trucks, and for new products Honda expects to create.

    "The main thing that is hampering us (at the current location) is we don't have enough room to display the vehicles," Myers said.

    It's unclear what will be done with the existing location, although Crown officials say they do not plan to abandon the property.

    With about $35-million in annual sales, Crown Honda is in the top third of all Honda dealerships in the country.

    The dealership has an annual payroll of about $2.4-million and will bring its 55 employees. Another 10 employees will be hired at an average salary of $34,000 per year.

    One of the main reasons for moving the Honda dealership to Pinellas Park is the business-friendly attitude, said Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater attorney who represents Crown.

    "Pinellas Park is head and shoulders the most user-friendly," Armstrong said.

    Some of that hospitality came in the form of monetary inducements.

    The City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to waive about $90,000 in fees if Crown would relocate to Pinellas Park.

    The enormity of the amount at first worried Pinellas Park Mayor Mischler, who wanted to make sure residents weren't hurt financially by bringing in the business.

    But a closer look at the figures persuaded Mischler the deal would be good for the city.

    The city can expect about $125,000 a year in taxes from the dealership -- most of it sales tax.

    With new car sales, 1 percent of the first $5,000, or $50, goes back to the city where the dealership is. Crown Honda sells about 1,624 cars annually, so the estimated sales tax revenue returned to Pinellas Park would be $81,200 each year -- or roughly the city's investment.

    "These car dealerships can be very lucrative," Mischler said. "I think it will be an asset to the city of Pinellas Park."

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