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Chevy dealership in works for city

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A Chevrolet dealership is in the works for Columbus in a proposed two-step plan, a local Realtor says.

An out-of-state car dealer wants to temporarily rent the former Sears auto center in downtown Columbus, said Tara Board, a commercial real estate agent with Breeden Inc. The former auto center has nearly 10,000 square feet under roof, with 3.5 acres of paved parking.

The operator of the new Chevrolet dealership is proposing that it be allowed to lease the space for 12 to 18 months while building a new dealership on four acres elsewhere within the city limits, Board said.

The dealership is interested in employing 30 to 40 people, some of whom might have worked at the former Sears auto store, she said.

Board declined to identify the car dealer, saying only that the potential operator is from out of state and is working with General Motors to open Chevrolet of Columbus, which plans to sell new and used cars.

The dealer is finalizing the purchase of land this week as a building site for the new dealership, she said, also declining to identify the property until the contract is signed. The Sears site is being sought as a temporary location until moving to the newly constructed dealership.

Columbus has not had a Chevrolet dealer since summer 2012, when the Wiese GM Center and General Motors parted ways.

Wiese GM ended its association with the automaker after reaching an agreement that allowed General Motors to purchase certain assets and end its business relationship with the dealership. Since then, the Columbus market has been served by Bradley Chevrolet in Franklin; Poynter Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac GMC in Seymour; and Country Chevrolet Buick in North Vernon.

Bryan Bennett, of the North Vernon dealership, and Bob Poynter, of Poynter Chevrolet in Seymour, both said they had heard rumors about the Columbus Chevrolet dealership, but had no comment. Representatives from the Franklin dealership but had no comment.

While General Motors would love to have a facility to sell and service its vehicles in Columbus, corporation spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said she could not confirm any plans for a new dealership at this time.

Sears block options

The Sears retail store and auto center closed March 9, leaving a large void at the edge of the downtown area. There have already been some suggestions for new uses, such as a performing arts center or convention space.

Board said she didn’t think the proposal made Monday night to transform the Sears property into a conference center or performing arts center would have any bearing on the dealership’s request to become a temporary tenant.

“Right out of the gate, I thought that could be a perfect fit,” she said.

She added that while the city moves through the process of finding a new permanent use for the site, the auto dealership could be a “good, solid, paying tenant” while those redevelopment plans are underway.

The Columbus Capital Foundation, which owns the Sears block, knows about the car dealership proposal but its board has not met to talk about it, said Tracy Souza, the board’s secretary.

Saying the foundation board will “entertain anything,” it is still in the process of obtaining a new appraisal for the entire property, Souza said.

An open house is planned from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today at the Indiana University Center for Art + Design so the public can offer its input into potential new uses. The foundation gets legal possession of the Sears property Monday, Souza said.

Board said the interested car dealer would be willing to allow the auto center building to continue to be shown to future prospects while operating with a temporary lease.

She described the dealer as motivated to get a decision from the Columbus Capital Foundation and added that the dealer wants the property immediately.

The foundation has been receiving inquiries about the property, but its board wants to have information from the appraisal and other studies before making any commitments, Sousa said.

There is a possibility the board might have a special meeting before its next regular meeting on April 11, Souza said.

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