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Old automobile showrooms finding new business life Dealerships are on high-visibility sites easily adaptable to other businesses

The push by Detroit automakers to shrink their dealership networks has created a byproduct: vacant showrooms.

The consolidation plans have left some former dealership locations in search of new uses. Keyser Buick's former home on Delaware Street in the City of Tonawanda was one of them, but it is being transformed into the new home of two businesses.

Randy Helf and John Skill Jr. ran the Buick dealership, which closed last April, and continue to operate Keyser Cadillac in Amherst.

After closing the Buick outlet, Helf said he and Skill had some opportunities to lease the site. But they decided that selling the property was a better idea.

"We feel lucky we were able to sell it so quickly, especially before the cold weather hits," Helf said. Keyser Holdings sold the location for $560,000 to TCK Holdings, according to county records.

Dan Gagliardo, owner of Awnings Plus and Five West Enterprises, said the former dealership site was a good fit for the needs of his two businesses. It contains a showroom, something Gagliardo wanted for displaying Awnings Plus' products.

The site also has additional space and parking for the operations and trucks used by Five West Enterprises. That company installs cable for Time Warner Cable, and is a commercial and residential wiring company, as well.

The Delaware Street site had the "neighborhood" location that appealed to Gagliardo, while also offering easy highway access.

Five West has already moved in, and Awnings Plus should complete its move soon, he said. The property is undergoing some remodeling, but Gagliardo described the changes as cosmetic. "The Skill people maintained a beautiful building," Gagliardo said.

Owners of some other former dealership sites are looking for similar revivals. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC are aiming to reduce the size of their sales networks, prompting some dealerships to be sold to other dealers or closed. Those decisions typically leave the former franchise owner, or whoever owned the site it sat on, to determine what to do with the property.

The locations are often in desirable, high-traffic locations close to highways, since they relied on easy access to attract customers, said Anthony D'Auria, executive vice president of Waterbourne Real Estate Advisors.

The buildings themselves tend to be rectangular-type structures, easily adapted to other uses, he said.

One possible downside: Given the properties' former use, with vehicles being serviced on the properties, there might be some environmental issues involved. The buyers need to take into account the potential cleanup costs, D'Auria said.

And in some cases, the new owner might prefer to just demolish the building and take advantage of the high-visibility location, which could add to the true price of the purchase.

Former dealerships lend themselves well to retail reuse. But they might also be suitable for an office-type tenant that has regular foot traffic, D'Auria said.

Kane Doyle Jeep's former site in Kenmore is a somewhat different situation, since it is tucked into a neighborhood. But it could turn into a mixture of office and retail space, if Iskalo Development completes its planned purchase of the Delaware Avenue property.

The former Kane Doyle Jeep properties were marketed with a sale price of $1.18 million, but the tentative price in the Iskalo deal has not been disclosed.

Sometimes, the owner of a former car lot doesn't have to look far for a buyer. That was the case with Paul Batt Buick in Cheektowaga, which closed in 2006 when Jim Murphy Pontiac-GMC Truck acquired its Buick franchise.

Earlier this year, business partners Paul V. Batt Jr. and Joseph Pera sold the former Batt dealership's site on Walden Avenue for about $1.2 million to its back-door neighbor, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, a dairy.

"We'd had a long-standing relationship with them," Batt said.


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