With demolition work already underway and new construction expected to begin shortly, more than just a few people have their fingers crossed that a local auto dealer can emerge from a devastating bankruptcy that has shuttered hundreds of Chrysler dealerships in the U.S.
Currie Group, which earlier this year received a tax break from the village, plans to relocate its Chevrolet dealership at 7901 Roosevelt to its defunct Chrysler store at 8401 Roosevelt. On Monday, village council members approved construction plans that would expand the showroom and service bays by 44 percent to 37,550 square feet. In addition, Currie Group would have room to park 231 new cars on the lot.
The auto dealer and village officials have been working feverishly the last few months to finalize those plans and begin construction before winter sets in. An attorney for the company, which has sold cars in Forest Park since 1981, told the planning commission this month it hopes to finish the project in the spring.
“They absolutely have to get some holes in the ground before it gets too cold,” Tim Gillian, village administrator, said of the push to begin work.
The consolidation is part of the company’s effort to survive the closing of its Chrysler showroom. The automaker filed for bankruptcy protection in May, and a total of 789 Chrysler dealers across the country learned that their franchise agreements would not be renewed.
However, the writing was already on the wall for Currie Group.
In February, the company’s vice president, Steven Jankelow, wrote a letter to village council members outlining a dire financial situation that was taking its toll on the company. During the prior 12 months, Jankelow said in that letter, the Chrysler store had lost nearly $463,000. The Chevrolet showroom wasn’t doing much better and had lost $80,000 in just the previous month.
Frozen credit markets were killing the auto industry as a whole, and Currie Group asked the village for a tax break that would subsidize the construction work necessary to consolidate. It took several months to negotiate an agreement, but in late July the village council unanimously approved a 15-year deal that will return up to $1.25 million in tax revenue to Currie Group.
The agreement guarantees that the first $50,000 in annual sales tax revenue would be retained by the village. Half of every dollar in excess of that amount would be returned to the dealership. Over the life of the deal, the payout to the company is not to exceed $1.25 million, or half the project’s costs, whichever comes first.