December 31, 2013 in City

East Sprague Avenue auto row gears up with remodels, CarMax

Amy R. Sisk The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Gus Johnson of Gus Johnson Ford stands in front of his dealership, where the front of the building has gotten a makeover.
(Full-size photo)

The silver façade of Gus Johnson Ford marks one of the latest signs of renovation along East Sprague Avenue’s auto row, part of a series of construction and remodeling projects totaling more than $25 million that have taken place at sales lots there in the last year.

Since the Ford dealership’s $1 million construction project was finished in October, customers no longer are greeted by outdated awnings surrounding the concrete block building.

“It entailed creating a whole new front on the building to get the same look that Ford wants their dealerships to look like,” owner Gus Johnson said.

“Auto row is an area where there’s vacant buildings, but with the guys who have remodeled and CarMax coming in, it’s cleaned up the area quite a bit,” Johnson said.

The dealerships on auto row – which stretches between University and Park roads along East Sprague – generated $2.3 million in local sales tax over the past 12 months, according to the Spokane County budget and finance office.

CarMax, a dealership for used cars, is slated to open in spring 2014. The company operates 128 dealerships in the United States, with the nearest locations in California and Nevada.

Michelle Topping Ellwood, a spokeswoman for CarMax, said Spokane Valley’s auto row was a particularly appealing location for a new store.

“Our real estate team looks for areas we’re not currently serving,” she said. “We’re looking for high-retail environments or dealer rows.”

The company tries to add 10 to 15 new stores each year. CarMax spends between $10 million and $25 million to build a store, Topping Ellwood said. The one in Spokane Valley will span 40,000 feet and display more than 300 vehicles.

Tom Maine, general sales manager for Dishman Dodge next door, welcomes the newcomer. He said sales dipped when the recession hit, but the advertising campaign CarMax launches with its stores could help nearby dealerships.

“I think it’s actually going to help us attract more people to the area,” he said. “I think the flow of traffic will increase with them next door.”

While workers finish construction on CarMax, a number of dealerships elsewhere on East Sprague Avenue are undergoing a facelift or have recently completed renovation projects.

Earlier this month at the AutoNation Chevrolet dealership, Stephanie Robideaux finished a book in one of the new waiting room’s leather chairs while workers changed the oil in her car.

“It’s more inviting than it used to be, especially when I have to bring my children,” she said. “We used to be scrunched in one little spot, but now there’s more space.”

Although Robideaux appreciates the renovated facility – which features an updated showroom, a new service area and a more spacious customer waiting area with a flat-screen TV on the wall – she said the changes would not have affected her decision to return to the dealership where she purchased her Suburban six years ago.

“I always take my car in where I bought it,” she said.

AutoNation has launched a $15 million effort to update its 10 dealerships in Spokane Valley, Senior Vice President Marc Cannon said. He expects construction to wrap up by the fourth quarter of 2014.

The company’s investment in the Valley is part of a $500 million plan to improve facilities across the nation, Cannon said.

Workers recently completed a $9.1 million renovation at the AutoNation Toyota dealership that doubled the size of the main facility and added heated delivery and service areas. The showroom’s shiny tile floors complement the new Prius, Scion xB and Rav4 on display near the customer seating area.

“It’s clearly going to be one of the state-of-the-art Toyota stores in the Northwest,” Cannon said.

Several blocks east, the interior of the AutoNation Subaru dealership looks like a showroom from decades past. Its most recent upgrade took place in 2003 with the addition of a stone pillar on the exterior to match other Subaru outlets.

“All manufacturers have a certain image for facilities based on what their stores should look like,” General Manager Jerry Bick said. “Our store has aged. A lot of our facility isn’t up to our manufacturer’s standards.”

His dealership is just beginning a $1.5 million renovation project. Over the next four months, workers will replace an aggregated concrete floor with tile and carpet, add a play area for children, update the exterior and change the configuration of the showroom and offices.

“Our customers here have supported the local economy, and we owe it to them to have a nice facility where they can come in for service,” Bick said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email