The Boom On US 1

While there has been much talk about the taxpayer subsidized Digital Domain building and TorreyPines Research Center,  little has been said about the building boom along dealer row in St. Lucie County,which is expected to add jobs and significantly increase the property tax base—-all without one cent of taxpayer money.

Garber Buick GMC of Fort Pierce, which purchased the dealership  from the Dean family at 5255 South U.S.1, invested $5 million to bulldoze the existing buildings and to construct a new 25,000 square foot dealership along with a 3,000 square foot used car building.   Mike Weinert, general manager and managing partner of the dealership, said when the project is completed this summer, he expects to hire at least 10 more employees, expanding the staff to 40 plus workers.

In addition, he hired a local contractor to build the facility and his goal is to use vendors from St. Lucie County.

“We try to keep it local,” he said.

The Garber Automotive Group, based in Michigan, did extensive research  before purchasing the property and decided it was worth the investment.

“There is a lot of growth on the Treasure Coast,”Weinert said.

The Coggin group came to the same conclusion when it decided to build the new Acura store at 4400 South U.S.1.  The 30,000 square foot state- of –the-art facility, which opened last month, has a skylight that illuminates the entire showroom and uses iPads and other high tech gadgets for selling and servicing vehicles.

A spokesman said the Coggin Group, owned by Asbury Holdings made a “substantial investment”  to build the Acura store, which will add about 20 employees, bringing the total employment count to 50.

The location of the property was one of the main reasons the new facility was built.

“It’s centrally located between Vero and Stuart,” he said.  “It’s a great opportunity.”

Dyer Chevrolet, which recently took over Bill Shultz Chevrolet at 4200 South U.S.1, is also under construction,  investing $2. 5 million gutting and renovating that store.    “It was long overdue,” said Tatiana Dyer,who along with her husband, Will, also operates dealerships in Vero Beach.

Besides the new façade, they have installed new service department  lifts and other equipment, put on a new roof and added about 20 new employees.  The renovations should be completed in two months .

Sunrise Ford is opening its Truck World,  which will only sell used pickup trucks,  on its property at 5359 South U.S.1.    We plan on having the biggest inventory on the Treasure Coast.    At least five new employees will be on the Truck World payroll.   Like the other dealers, we felt it was the right time to expand our operation.

The building boom along U.S.1, along with the additional jobs,  certainly should please county officials—especially since the county is collecting significant impact fees and higher property taxes from the dealerships.   That is in stark contrast to the debacles in Port St. Lucie, where taxpayers paid about $100 million to Torrey Pines Research Center which was supposed to generate 189 jobs.  It now hires about 100 people and was forced to take out a mortgage on its city-paid building because it does not have enough money for its operating expenses.

Port St. Lucie gave $40 million to Digital Domain for its building  and the company received another $30 million in state and city incentives.  As most now know, that apparently wasn’t enough. The company went bust.Number of employees at present.Zero.

Sunrise Ford has about 80 employees and this year paid $89,638 in county property taxes.  It’s annual payroll is $4 million.Multiply those numbers by the 12 dealerships in the county and you get a good idea of what  they contribute to St. Lucie County.   There were some vacant dealerships during  the recession, but most of us just tightened our belts and held on as best we could until the economy rebounded.   We continued to pay our taxes, kept as many people on our payroll as possible, and still managed to give to local charities and community organizations.

Unlike Torrey Pines, we could not go to the city and ask for a special deal that would allow us to mortgage a building we didn’t pay for in the first place.   We also were not given $50 million of taxpayer incentives to help pay for our operating expenses during those tough times.

You would think Port St. Lucie city and St. Lucie county officials would learn a lesson or two from the Torrey Pines and Digital Domain experiences.  But I am not so sure.   Last month the county offered $312,640 in property tax breaks to lure a bakery distributor to St. Lucie County.  The county also promised to waive $49,333 in impact fees and give the company a $51,750 “job growth” grant.  Number of jobs expected from those handouts—30.