Business is in high gear for AutoMotorPlex, a Chanhassen complex for cars that is the only one of its kind between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Drew and Janet Richardson sold their house and bought two condominiums: One for them, and one for their cars.
The empty-nesters wanted their six-car garage but not the four-bedroom house connected to it.
"We decided to downsize the house but not the garage," he said.
They moved their British sports cars to the AutoMotorPlex, a Chanhassen complex that is the only one of its kind between Chicago and Los Angeles. The deluxe garage condominiums serve as the ultimate man cave after being outfitted with the likes of 80-inch flat-screen TVs, full kitchens, plush living rooms and even basketball courts for the kids to play on while Dad tinkers with a timing belt.
Most of the owners, who paid from $39,000 to $100,000 for their spaces even before outfitting them with the extras, don't think of them as merely garages.
"It's an urban cabin," Tony Abena said of his space, where he keeps his dad's old farm pickup and mementos from his grandfather. "When life gets busy, it's a place I can come hang out with my four kids."
Bonding is a big part of the complex's appeal -- from poker games to birthday and graduation parties. Father-and-son garage owners Joe and Jeff Stoebner have even hosted holiday dinners in their garage.
"We moved the cars out of the way and had 40 people in here for Thanksgiving dinner last year," Joe Stoebner said. "Our wives thought it was a great idea. If a kid spills gravy on a carpet, you've got a stain. Here, we just hose down the floor and get out a squeegee."
Despite the listless economy, business is booming. Of the 135 units that founder Bruno Silikowski has built so far, only two are unsold. He plans to break ground on more garages in September.
In retrospect, he thinks the recession helped business.
"The baby boomers wanted to give up their bigger homes while keeping their toys," said Silikowski, who is looking into opening additional car condos, which got their start in New York City, where parking space is always at a premium.
The 40-acre complex, complete with paved roads and a clubhouse for social gatherings, looks like a fancy mini-storage, with a Tudor twist. The cars run the gamut, from the classics to ultra-high-end sports cars. One garage holds a collection of Mustangs spanning five decades. The next is full of '60s muscle cars and adjacent to that is one that stores a Lamborghini.
For the owners, it's all about spending time with people who share their passion for internal combustion.
"It was the atmosphere that attracted me," said Terry Larson, whose collection includes cars from the '30s, '40s and '50s. "I just love the feel of it, the camaraderie. You're among people with the same mindset. You can walk down the row of garages and always find someone to talk cars with."
The pride of his collection is a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. "It's the first car I ever owned," he said. "One like it, actually; not this particular car. When I was a teenager, my cousins and I rebuilt the engine of that car, but it blew up. That might have had something to do with the fact that when we got done, we had a whole box of parts left over."
Raj Mehta, who spends his free time working on a stock car he races, said that no one has to worry about a failed engine rebuild now because the owners always are willing to lend a hand to one another.
"Everybody's got something they're good at, and they're willing to share. I'm no good at welding, for instance. But if I need to weld, I know that I can find somebody who is good at it who will come help me," he said.
While Mehta's is a working garage, Silikowski calls others "art garages," where owners put their collections on display.
And then there are garages like the one owned by Wayne Srsen, who was talked into chipping in on a space with his car-fanatic business partners, Donn LaVoie and Don Huizenga.
"I was driving a Camry, so I bought a Camaro just so I would fit in," said Srsen, who confessed that his notion of "working on a car" is to wash and wax it. "I still don't know anything about cars, but I love being here." (For the record, his car has an impressive shine.)
"It's like a country club, except instead of golf, this is about the cars," Huizenga said.
To maintain the country club aura, Silikowski arranges social events, some for owners only and others open to the public. The highest-profile event takes place the first Saturday of the month from April to October. Anyone who owns a collector, vintage or high-end sports car is welcome to display it, and anyone can come and gawk for free.
As many as 2,000 people turn out for the shows, which draw cars worth upwards of $1 million. "We probably have more than $40 million worth of cars on display here right now," Silikowski said on a recent Saturday.
Silikowski, who collects sports cars, got the idea for the complex from one of his kids, in a roundabout sort of way.
"I came home one day and found that one of the kids had rested his bicycle against my Porsche," he said. "He was using my Porsche as a kickstand!"
He started looking for a place to store his cars, something that was secure, private, provided easy access and was heated so he could work on his collection in the winter. He couldn't find a place that fit the bill, so he built his own, opening it in 2007.
With the condos selling so well, he's likely to run out of expansion room before long, but he hasn't run out of plans. He's looking at starting other locations in the Twin Cities area, including one that would have a private racetrack.
"We've got a place to keep the cars," he said. "Now we need a place to drive them."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392