BY JONATHAN YOUNG
Mayor Jeffrey Lunde welcomed CarMax to Brooklyn Park June 25 after the city council approved a zoning change and conditional use permit to allow the used car dealer to redevelop the former Grand Rios site.
The site, near the intersection of Highway 694 and County Road 81, has sat vacant since the hotel and water park on the property went into foreclosure and were shut down in June 2011.
CarMax, a Virginia-based Fortune 500 company, has a purchase agreement for the site, but it needed the city council to rezone the property before it could proceed with its plans for a CarMax AutoSuperstore.
In April the council heard presentations from CarMax and from the nonprofit AquaPlex Facility Group about their competing visions for the site. The AquaPlex group wanted to turn the property into an aquatic center with a 50-meter competitive pool and a 25-yard warm-water teaching pool. Morrissey Hospitality wanted to renovate the hotel on the site.
Plans for an AquaPlex facility and hotel would have required assistance from existing Tax Increment Financing funds that used to go to the Grand Rios developer. But the city needed special permission to use those funds, and the governor vetoed the tax bill containing the provisions granting that permission.
CarMax describes itself as a high-end used-car retailer. It has 110 stores and has been listed for the past eight years among “Fortune Magazine’s” top 100 companies to work for, according to CarMax representative John McNamara.
McNamara said the planned facility will serve as the “hub” location for the Twin Cities. The company already owns land for a dealership in Maplewood and may consider a third location.
The facility will include 52,000 square feet of building space, including an area for inspecting and reconditioning all the cars for the company’s planned Twin Cities locations.
According to MacNamara, a typical CarMax store sells 325-350 cars a month. He expects the Brooklyn Park location will inspect and recondition about 700 cars a month.
Consequently, he estimates the facility will eventually create about 145 full-time positions and 30 part-time positions.
“I know that’s a much higher number than your typical car dealership,” he told the council June 25.
He said about 90 full-time jobs and three part-time jobs will be in the service operations, which includes the reconditioning process.
McNamara said the company plans to partner with Hennepin Technical College to help recruit workers from the school’s related programs.
In fact, Hennepin Technical College sent the city a letter supporting the CarMax Project.
CarMax has conducted community meetings with residents who live near the site, and one neighbor attended the council meeting to speak in favor of the dealership.
Thomas Juaire lives directly across the street from the property.
“I just wanted to voice my support for the CarMax, more for the security aspect,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve had quite a few problems in the neighborhood.”
Juaire said CarMax’s security measures impressed him, and he hoped for a reduction in police calls to the area.
In addition to the zoning change and conditional use permit, the council approved a variance to allow the parking lot to be closer to the road than usually allowed. CarMax plans to mitigate the effect of that change by adding a screening wall, saving existing trees and planting more trees.
The permit approved by the council also gives Brooklyn Park the right to make the first offer if CarMax ever decides to sell the property.
“I’m really glad that’s in there, because for me that’s a very significant issue,” Councilmember Mike Trepanier said. He said the city can’t foresee the future, but this at least leaves the city better prepared to deal with potential challenges.
The Brooklyn Park City Council approved the second reading of an ordinance rezoning the Grand Rios hotel property to allow a car dealership July 23. It was the final council action required to allow CarMax, a used car retailer, to use the vacant property for its proposed dealership.
CarMax did not return calls seeking an estimated timeline for the project. Senior planner Todd Larson with the city of Brooklyn Park said CarMax has not given the city a specific timeline either, but he expects construction to begin in 2013 or 2014.