Business

Wendle Motors shifts gears

Spokane’s father-and-son car dealers Dick and Chud Wendle announced plans Tuesday to convert their showroom and dealership across from NorthTown Mall into an upscale retail mall, starting in 2008.

Chud Wendle, 39, who’s been president of Wendle Motors for nearly 10 years, is stepping down to help develop the new single-level shopping center at the corner of Wellesley Avenue and Division Street.

His father, Dick Wendle, 66, takes over as president, the position he held before his son took over in 1997.

“The main message we’re telling our workers is that this is a great way for us to consolidate the car business,” Chud Wendle said. The company’s NorthTown vehicles and the 120 employees will move to Wendle at the Y, a dealership opened in 1995. The total Wendle Motors worker headcount will remain at 170, Dick Wendle said.

The company announced it will spend about $5 million to expand and remodel the Wendle at the Y facilities. That will include a new 23,000-square-foot Nissan showroom. That new building will be completed in early 2008. Following the relocation of vehicles, demolition will start on the Northtown site, with the new construction starting in mid-2008, Chud Wendle said.

In news releases, the company states it is the largest Ford and Nissan dealership in the Inland Northwest. Its first Spokane dealership began downtown in 1943. The Wendles opened the NorthTown location, measuring about 250,000 total square feet, in 1964.

That dealership has been successful but the opportunity to use that land for “a higher and better use” became a key issue in discussions about what to do with the property, Chud Wendle said.

“It’s his idea,” Dick Wendle said, when asked where the plan started to convert the property to retail.

The Wendles would not say how much the 70,000-square-foot development, to be called Northtown Square, will cost.

“Our goal is to develop a center that complements NorthTown Mall,” Chud Wendle said. “We consider ourselves their neighbors and we want this to be an even stronger complement to this area.”

By comparison to NorthTown mall, the new center would be relatively small. NorthTown Mall has about one million square feet of retail space and 175 stores, including several large anchor stores. Northtown Square might have six to 15 tenants depending on which choose to move in and what space they require.

No tenants have been announced yet. Discussions are continuing with possible tenants, including local companies and several large retailers who are considering building their first stores in Spokane, Chud Wendle said.

While the auto dealership will have nearly six acres for retail development, most of the project will be set aside for surface parking, Dick Wendle said. “We have to maintain a parking-to-retail ratio of five-to-one” in amount of space set aside, he said.

The Wendles are partnering on the project with a Spokane company that’s developed a number of smaller retail malls, including the Five Mile Shopping Center and Town & Country Shopping Center at Wall Street and Francis Avenue.

That firm, Dixon Investment Group, will focus on the design and construction of Northtown Square, said John Stejer, Dixon’s president.

Stejer said the Dixon group is excited about the prospects for expansion at the location. “This is at the corner of Wellesley and Division, one of the highest-traffic intersections in the area. We’re very comfortable and confident that this is going to be a very successful project,” Stejer said.

The final configuration of retail space will vary depending on whether possible tenant retailers want larger stores of up to 40,000-square-feet, or if they want to move into “junior tenant” spaces as small as 8,000- to 15,000-square-feet, Stejer explained.

“We should have a good lineup of tenants within 60 to 90 days,” Stejer said. The partnership is also eager to meet with local retailers interested in taking retail space at Northtown Square, Stejer said.

Moving the NorthTown Wendle auto dealership to the much larger, 13-acre Wendle at the Y site should save money for the company plus benefit customers, Chud Wendle noted. “This gives us a tremendous competitive advantage and allows our customers more selection of vehicles,” he said, adding that the industry pattern has been toward similar dealership consolidation.

Stejer would not divulge whether Dixon and the Wendles each have half-shares in the project. “We want to say only that we’re an equity partner. And we’re very excited and looking forward to delivering something that Spokane hasn’t seen yet,” he added.



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