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High-profile Interstate 55 location coming back with dealership

A renovation project is bringing some welcome news to the City of Jackson. The former Save Rite grocery store on Interstate 55 in North Jackson, which has been vacant for years now, is undergoing a major renovation and will soon be the new home of an established automobile dealership. And that dealership will be a showpiece facility, offering luxury cars in an equally luxurious setting.

The Deuce McAllisters Import dealership, located just across the interstate from the former grocery store, is totally gutting the building to make room for its Audis, Jaguars, Volkswagens and Land Rovers. The phased construction is underway, and the dealership, soon to operate under the new name Jackson Imports, is anticipating moving into the facility in March 2008.

Bryan Berman, COO of Best Automotive of MS, LLC, which owns the dealership in partnership with NFL running back/entrepreneur Deuce McAllister, said the new facility will offer not only more room for the dealership, but a more upscale environment that mirrors the quality of the automobiles it sells. The fact that an empty big-box building is being rehabilitated adds extra excitement.

“This project is very rewarding to me personally,” Berman said. “This is a large vacant building right on the interstate, so it will have a very visible and positive impact.”

Needed space

Anyone visiting the dealership at its current locale will quickly see that space is at a premium. Both the showroom and the lot are crowded, which Berman said makes for a less-than-appealing shopping experience and a poor working environment for employees. And the service department space is even more inadequate.

“The facility simply does not match the quality of automobiles we sell and service,” Berman said.

Space was already limited when the dealership carried Audi, Jaguar and Volkswagen. The fairly recent addition of Land Rover made the facility completely untenable.

Indeed, the Land Rover deal proved the catalyst for the renovation of the grocery store that traces its roots back to Jitney Jungle. Winn-Dixie bought the facility from then bankrupt Jitney Jungle before converting it into a Save Rite Grocery Warehouse. The dealership brought the property under contract in December 2005.

The new facility, which will encompass approximately 60,000 square feet, will offer a number of huge pluses for the dealership, not the least of which is visibility. Though the current facility sits on the I-55 Frontage Road, it is largely invisible from the interstate because it sits so low. The new facility is wholly visible from I-55, and offers four times the frontage of the current locale.

What those travelers will see is a state-of-the-art, attractive dealership that will offer plenty of space. In fact, the new dealership has enough space to allow for a 120-foot test track that is required by the Land Rover brand.

Meeting the four brand’s showroom requirements proved a long and detailed process. Each has its own specifications that had to be incorporated under one roof. Berman said this by far was the most time-consuming aspect of the design phase.

However, to get the project rolling and to save as much time as possible, the dealership adopted phased construction, which is being handled by White Construction. While the brands were negotiating their showroom preferences, White began two phases of the project — demolition and re-roofing. Since both of these components were going to have to be executed no matter what the brands decided, this work got underway. The other two phases — building shell and interior fit-out — will follow.

Berman promises the wait will be well worth it. The Jaguar and Land Rover showrooms will offer a plush waiting area and such amenities as an Internet café, plasma screen televisions and small room playing movies on the history of Land Rover and Jaguar.

The Audi and Volkswagen showrooms will also offer plush customer waiting areas, cappuccino bar with pastries, interactive videos and games and plasma screen TVs.

Yet, it is the area of service where the new facility will really outshine the current locale. Will Lewis, AIA, an architect with JBHM Architects, P.A., which is executing the design work, said his biggest challenge was incorporating the new facility’s service needs. He explained that the new facility has very limited space in back, making it difficult to plan for the flow of vehicles in and out of the service department. But those challenges were met, and Lewis was very pleased with the facility’s form and function.

Customers seeking service can roll up right to the door. And the parts department’s space will triple at the new facility.

The current facility only houses 10 service bays. The dealership has an immediate need for 20 bays. The new facility will provide that and some – it will encompass 34 bays.

Future plans

Adding almost twice the needed service bays is not overkill. The dealership has plans for growth in the very near future.

Berman said a fifth brand will be added. He could not comment on what that brand might be or when it might be added, but a space is being reserved for a fifth showroom at the new facility. It will simply need fitting out when the new brand is brought in.

The new facility, even before the addition of the fifth brand, will require more employees. Currently employing 45 workers, the new facility will have a staff of roughly 60.

In January 2006 when Berman bought into the dealership, he developed a three-year plan for the operation. They were to acquire a new facility, grow the business through brand addition and properly train the staff. The renovated facility and the addition of Land Rover and the yet-to-be-named new brand fulfill the first two components of that plan.

The third part has also been accomplished. Berman said the dealership has invested heavily in its people in terms of training, and feels his staff now has the tools to meet customers’ needs. The new facility will also give his workers a workplace that will increase morale and productivity.

As an interesting aside, this is not Berman’s first experience in redeveloping a vacant big-box facility into a dealership. His holdings include dealerships in Missouri and Arkansas. In Springfield, Mo., he oversaw the conversion of a Lowe’s that encompasses roughly the same footage as the Jackson facility. It is now a Porsche/Volkswagen/Mitsubishi/Suzuki automobile dealership.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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