One of Denny Hecker's former auto palaces is getting a new life as a transit hub, but across the metro area real estate brokers are hustling to sell other dealerships shut down during the recession.
Scott County recently completed its $3.2 million purchase of the former Shakopee Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership at Hwy. 169 and Marschall Road. Officials plan to spend another $800,000 to transform the lot and building into a large park-and-ride transit hub by early 2013.
The nearly 7-acre dealership has been sitting empty since Hecker closed it and five others in late 2008. It was part of a wave of closings across the state as the auto industry retrenched during the recession.
Many of the unused properties have been turned into used-car stores, said Scott Lambert, head of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association. Nobody keeps an official tally of closed dealerships, but Lambert estimated that about a dozen remain empty statewide.
"It's not pretty out there," said Richard Palmiter, a vice president at CB Richard Ellis who sold the Shakopee dealership for Chrysler, which had taken it back in foreclosure.
One problem is that dealerships aren't easily converted to other uses.
Oak Park Heights near Stillwater is home to two of Hecker's former dealerships. Both sit shuttered after going through foreclosures. City administrator Eric Johnson said the city has studied the sites and is prepared to offer incentive packages if developers come along.
"It's not a quick fix," Johnson said.
He said Hecker's former used car shop in Oak Parks Heights has been sold and will become a Dairy Queen.
Roseville, too, has a former Hecker lot sitting empty. A church had expressed interest in the site, but that didn't pan out, city officials said.
Other cities were luckier. The three former Hecker dealerships in Inver Grove Heights are now new-car dealerships, city officials there said.
The fallen auto mogul, whose face once graced bus advertisements, faces up to 10 years in jail for bankruptcy fraud and for conspiring to defraud Chrysler Financial. He's in the Sherburne County jail until his sentencing next year.
The Shakopee deal was a score for Scott County because the heavily-trafficked intersection is perfect for transit.
"We didn't think we'd actually be able to acquire a property that close to 169," said Lezlie Vermillion, public works director and deputy county administrator. "We figured probably another auto dealer would come in there."
When one didn't, her staff sought funds from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The county kicked in $800,000. The sale closed in early November. The property had a 2010 taxable market value of $5.04 million, according to Scott County property records.
The site comes equipped with, no surprise, plenty of space for parking as well as a fairly new 23,363-square-foot building already outfitted with offices, a service area and restrooms. The building, built in 2001, will house dispatchers and schedulers and provide indoor garage space for the county's fleet of 29 dial-a-ride buses, Vermillion said. The showroom floor probably will become a waiting area for dial-a-ride customers and commuters waiting to catch BlueXpress buses to downtown Minneapolis.
It will be the county's third park-and-ride, and could draw 400 to 500 people a day, Vermillion said.
That's good news for the Kohl's and Target stores across the street, which stand to benefit from the daily influx of transit users. Vermillion said the county and city also have been fielding calls from local developers expressing interest in transit-friendly development on an adjacent 8-acre property.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683