Columbia to get its first car dealership Small auto park may be developed EAST COLUMBIA

August 10, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The owner of Baltimore's Monument Ford plans to open Columbia's first auto dealership, and the development of a small auto park at the Snowden River Parkway site may follow.

George Doetsch said his company is negotiating with two other automobile manufacturers that have expressed interest in forming an auto park in the Columbia Corporate Park at McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway.

"There is some strong interest in that immediate area," said Mr. Doetsch, who acquired the Baltimore dealership in 1987 and previously owned dealerships in Elkton, Easton and Leesburg, Va.

Several times since the 1970s, the Rouse Co. has attempted unsuccessfully to develop an auto park in the east Columbia area, said Ed Ely, Rouse Co. vice president and director of land sales and marketing.

"In hindsight, maybe it was too early in Columbia's history. There weren't enough people here," said Mr. Ely. Another factor, he said, is the large number of dealerships in Ellicott City and other nearby areas.

Tom O'Donnell, owner of O'Donnell Honda and O'Donnell Pontiac, Oldsmobile, GMC in Ellicott City, said the Columbia market has been "perplexing" for auto manufacturers, many of whom operate dealerships in the nearby Montgomery Auto Sales Park in Burtonsville and along the U.S. 40 and Interstate 95 corridors.

"It's like TCBY stores are great, but if you have too many in the same area, two or three will go broke," he said.

Mr. O'Donnell said he talked to Rouse Co. officials about opening a dealership in Columbia in the early 1970s and again in the late 1980s. He said locations offered in office building and warehouse districts weren't desirable and were expensive.

"In our business, you need to be in the neighborhood, on the main drag, in a high population density," said Mr. O'Donnell.

He said Columbia, which has a population of about 80,000, could be a strong market for auto dealers and that more could become interested if the price for vacant land drops.

Mr. Ely said the Rouse Co., which developed Columbia, believes the city is a "viable market" for auto dealers.

The Rouse Co. sold the land where the dealership is being built to Western Electric in the mid-1970s, Mr. Ely said. A Woodlawn development company, Merritt, eventually acquired the land and is developing the vacant site.

Apple Ford, as the dealership will be known, will feature a full line of Ford cars and trucks, used cars and parts. A 55,000-square-foot sales and service facility is being constructed on about 6.4 acres, which Ford Leasing Development purchased in May for $2.15 million.

The dealership will cost an estimated $2.4 million to build. Construction could be completed and the dealership opened by the end of the year, Mr. Doetsch said.

Ford has an option to purchase from Merritt an additional 15 acres in the potential 32-acre development, pending negotiations.

Mr. Doetsch said he was interested in establishing a dealership in Columbia because of its proximity to two large metropolitan areas and the growth of its residential and commercial bases.

"I feel there is a need for a good-quality dealership in Columbia, and that's what we intend to be," he said.

"I think there will be other dealers eventually in the Columbia market. It's good to be the first. It's an opportunity to introduce your product and demonstrate what caliber organization you are."

William H. Howard Jr., the county economic development director, said that several years ago, when he worked for a commercial real estate company, he discussed with Rouse Co. officials officials the possibility of developing an auto park.

"If this is the first of several tenants in an auto park, it should be applauded," he said. "It would be accomplishing something the Rouse Co. planned strategically."

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