Spokane Journal of Business

Vehicle dealers descend on I-90 at Liberty Lake

R’nR RV is the latest of four to buy land there with freeway frontage

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Attracted by high visibility, easy access, and increased development activity, vehicle dealerships have begun showing a keen interest in property along Interstate 90 near burgeoning Liberty Lake.

RnR RV Center, which sells motor homes, mini-homes, travel trailers, camper vans, and truck campers, is the latest of four vehicle dealers to open or make plans for a large sales-and-service facility in that area. A fifth dealer, RVs Northwest Inc., is exploring the feasibility of moving its Spokane Valley facility to a larger site along the freeway, either at Liberty Lake or across the state line in Post Falls.

RnR RVs owners recently bought 10 acres of land in Metropolitan Mortgage & Security Co.s Liberty Lake Center, on the south side of the freeway, for about $1.5 million. They hope to move an RnR RV satellite operation there from the University City Shopping Center parking lot on East Sprague in the Spokane Valley by late October and to construct an 8,000-square-foot sales building on the Liberty Lake parcel next year.

Ray Bunney, general manager and part-owner of the RV dealer, estimates the total value of the project at about $2.5 million, including land-purchase costs. The site that the dealership will occupy is just west of the 2.5-acre Land Rover of Spokane dealership, which Seattles Biff Brotherton opened last year to become the first vehicle dealer to open there.

Foretravel Inc., a Texas-based RV manufacturer, bought about five acres of land east of the Land Rover dealer earlier this year and plans to move its 15-year-old, factory-owned Coeur dAlene store there. Foretravel sells mostly high-end RVs in the $300,000-to-$500,000 range.

Betty Solum, general manager of the companys Coeur dAlene store, which does business as Foretravel Northwest, says development of the $2.5 million Liberty Lake facility is expected to begin shortly and to be completed by late this year or next spring. The facility will include a 17,000-square-foot, sales, parts, and service building, in addition to a large paved and landscaped area for displaying RVs, she says.

We just needed freeway access and visibility. Its too hard to get to us and you cant find us at the Coeur dAlene location, she says. Asked how she feels about competing with other RV dealers at Liberty Lake, she says, The more that are in the area the better. I think in time it will be full of RV dealers.

George Gee plans move

Separately, George Gee, owner of George Gee Pontiac/GMC, recently sold his dealerships East Sprague property and disclosed plans to move his car and truck dealerships to part of a 15-acre site that he and his wife bought just north of I-90 at the Liberty Lake exit. Construction of a 70,000-square-foot building is planned as part of that project, which is due to get under way shortly and is valued at about $6.5 million.

Vehicle dealers interest in locating along the freeway east of Spokane isnt confined to the Liberty Lake area. About four years ago, RVs Northwest moved its Spokane Valley operation from 4229 E. Sprague to a new facility about two miles west of Liberty Lake, on the south side of I-90 near Barker Road.

However, Bill Fishfader, who owns that company with his wife, Sheila, says RVs Northwest already has outgrown that location, where it owns 2.5 acres and is leasing another three. It needs either to move to a new, larger site or scale back the product lines it carries, he says, adding that he expects to make a decision on how to proceed within the next 45 days or so.

Across the state line in Post Falls, Beaudry Motorsports, which sells a number of brands of European motorcycles and related parts and accessories, is moving this week into a new building thats been constructed on a 4.5-acre site on the north side of I-90, across the freeway from Hot Rod Caf. Near the new Beaudry building, plans are said to be in the works for a possible Nissan car dealership.

Dealers cite several factors for the recent spurt of freeway-frontage development activity.

More and more manufacturers are wanting dealerships on the interstate because of the visibility. In the RV business, its been happening across the U.S., says RnR RVs Ray Bunney. He adds, For us, we needed another permanent site and that gives us a chance to grow more.

RnRs main facility is located at 108 N. Vista, where the company sells Coachmen, Holiday Rambler, Winnebago, Roadtrek, and Rialta motor homes and camper vans, and Snowriver campers. The dealerships parent company, RnR Holiday RV Inc., owned by Vern and Chi Chi Rice and Bunney and his wife, Jo, opened the 2.5-acre University City lot in April 1998. That facility sells mostly Fleetwood brand motor homes and trailers.

Increased demand for RVs among aging Baby Boomers is contributing to RV dealers need for more space and their efforts to establish a stronger visual presence. RV sales were up 15 percent last year, making it the industrys best year since 1978, and are up 9 percent so far this year, says Phil Ingrassia, spokesman for the National RV Dealers Association, a trade group based in Fairfax, Va.

All across the country, were seeing dealers upgrade their facilities, he says.

Northwest RVs Bill Fishfader says his dealership also is seeing a lot of younger customers than it did five to 10 years ago because its carrying a broader inventory of lower-priced products, such as tent trailers and truck campers.

RnR RVs Bunney says he thinks vehicle dealerships migration toward I-90 is due partly just to continuing population growth along the freeway corridor between Spokane and Coeur dAlene, connecting the two cities.

That growth will increase traffic levels on the freeway. The Spokane Regional Transportation Council estimates that over the next decade daily I-90 traffic will rise by about 4,000 vehicles, to about 38,000, east of Harvard Road at Liberty Lake and by about 18,000 vehicles, to about 60,000, west of Harvard.

George Gee is so bullish on I-90 frontage at Liberty Lake that he and his wife, anticipating a healthy future demand for property there, bought twice as much land as they needed for their dealerships.

Whether that stretch of Interstate 90 eventually will replace long-established East Sprague as Spokanes auto row certainly remains open to question. The latest available Spokane County figures suggest that daily traffic at the intersection of Sprague Avenue and Vista Road, in the heart of the heaviest concentration of auto dealers here, still is equal to or slightly greater than that on the freeway at Liberty Lake.

Regardless of the traffic numbers, Bunney, Gee, and Solum all say their dealerships will benefit from greater exposure at the planned new locations.

Kim Crompton
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