Auto dealers hope to create new car ‘mecca’

The far northwest side of Milwaukee could soon become the next hot spot for automobile dealerships. Bergstrom Automotive is moving its Chevrolet dealership from Menomonee Falls to a new dealership under construction near the company’s Hummer dealership at 11330 W. Metro Blvd., Milwaukee.
The new, 60,475 square-foot Chevrolet dealership is expected to open in mid-April. It will be the second dealership built along Metro Boulevard.
In addition, Russ Darrow Group plans to develop seven acres it owns between the Bergstrom Hummer dealership and the new Bergstrom Chevrolet dealership site.
Russ Darrow will most likely build a 22,000-square-foot Nissan dealership on its property and another 16,000-square-foot dealership, said company president and chief operating officer Russ Darrow III.
The Nissan dealership would be relocated from the company’s Brown Deer Road dealership. However, Darrow said plans for the Metro Boulevard property are not set in stone and a different brand could be sold there. Also, Darrow has an option to purchase additional land on Metro Boulevard and could build more auto dealerships there.
"I do expect to develop a dealership or two on the seven acres," Darrow said. "And I may do more across the street."
For now, Darrow is watching to see how Bergstrom Chevrolet does at its new location. Darrow said the area, just east of Highway 45 and south of Fond du Lac Avenue, could become an ideal location for auto dealerships in metropolitan Milwaukee.
"I think it’s going to be one of the better auto retail locations," said Darrow.
Florida developer August Urbanek has owned the property along Metro Boulevard since the 1950s. Several years ago, the city approved plans for an office building and a hotel on the site, but Urbanek could not obtain tenants.
About two years ago, Urbanek unveiled plans for a 380,000-square-foot shopping center there, but the project was strongly opposed by Milwaukee Alderman Tom Nardelli, who lives nearby, and other residents in the neighborhood.
Nardelli, who bought his home site from Urbanek, said he and most other residents have embraced the development of the auto dealerships.
"As a resident who lives in the subdivision immediately to the south, the introduction of auto sales in that area has not had a negative impact on our properties," Nardelli said. "The people that lived there accepted it.
"It will probably be a new mecca for auto dealerships there. It’s better to have that land developed and paying taxes than vacant," said Nardelli, who is running for the Milwaukee mayoral seat.
Urbanek said he owns 38 acres on the south side of Metro Boulevard. Urbanek hopes to attract three more auto dealerships and two other retailers, possibly restaurants.
Traffic access to the area needs to be improved to maximize the area’s potential, Darrow said.
Urbanek said 107th Street should be widened to four lanes between Fond du Lac Avenue and Good Hope Road.
"I’m going to watch the Bergstrom opening," Darrow said. "I’m watching the traffic patterns out there. I think the ingress and egress needs to improve."
Urbanek paid for an off ramp from northbound Highway 45 to Metro Boulevard, but traffic leaving the area or coming in from southbound Highway 45 must use Good Hope Road ramps.
Urbanek sought assistance from the city to build an overpass for Metro Boulevard over Highway 45 and add more ramps, but city officials denied the request.
"That’s a very expensive proposition," Nardelli said. "I don’t see a nickel coming out of the city. There’s no money for that."
Bergstrom acquired the former Falls Chevrolet dealership at N70 W12900 Appleton Ave. in Menomonee Falls in October and renamed it Bergstrom Chevrolet of Milwaukee.
Bruce Behling, president of Heritage Reserve Holding LLC, said his firm hopes to acquire the Appleton Avenue dealership property in Menomonee Falls. Heritage Reserve, which was formed by Strong Financial Corp. founder Dick Strong and other Strong officials, is developing the 120-acre area surrounding the Strong headquarters.
Bergstrom Automotive is based in Neenah. The company has more than 20 dealerships in Wisconsin, most in the Fox Cities area. The company now has two dealerships in the Milwaukee area. The Hummer dealership opened in 2002.
Bergstrom officials could not be reached for comment.

Feb. 6, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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