Driven to Succeed

While I try to pay attention to all of Redwood City’s various businesses, I naturally pay special attention to new businesses and to those that are closing. Recently some of our automobile dealerships have captured my attention: we’ve had some movement lately that may have a real effect on the city and its budget.

Based solely on the number of visits the average Redwood City resident makes to automobile dealerships over the years, compared with a store such as Safeway or Key Market, you wouldn’t think that our dealerships deserve much thought. But the size (in dollars) of the average transaction, and thus the amount of money that the city receives in taxes from those transactions, means that, for the city’s budget, auto dealerships are some of the most valuable and important businesses that exist within Redwood City. The loss of one is a big deal, and the potential gain in attracting a new one is equally a big deal.

Redwood City thought that they had a new one in the pipeline. On May 15 the Planning Commission gave their approval to Tesla’s proposed Service and Sales Center that was to be located at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Whipple Avenue, in the building formerly shared by Crunch Fitness and Chef Peking Chinese Restaurant. The deal only needed the OK from the City Council before we would see a new Tesla “dealership” (Tesla doesn’t call them that) on a highly visible corner at one of the primary entrances to Redwood City. But as I reported in my blog post Behind the Scenes, during the Planning Commission meeting where the project was discussed and ultimately approved it became clear that Tesla’s vision for the project and the City’s own vision weren’t in alignment. Tesla, in their presentation and in their ultimate design, had toned down the “sales” aspect of the project to the point where it was basically nonexistent—leaving us only with a service center. And while a Tesla Service Center is still a valuable commodity, such an operation wouldn’t be generating the sales taxes that the City had expected to be receiving from new car sales at the center. Subsequent discussions between Tesla and the City resulted in an impasse: Tesla didn’t want Redwood City’s location to be a sales center, and the City didn’t want the location to be dedicated solely to automobile servicing. So, when the City informed Tesla that they were not willing to re-zone the project site for a “service station,” Tesla opted to withdraw their project from consideration.

Tesla is undergoing some internal reorganization within their business operations, and is looking at ways to cut costs. Thus, it’s conceivable that the refusal on Tesla’s part to sell and deliver cars at a Redwood City location may have been motivated by internal business needs that had little to do with this particular site. Regardless of the real reason, though, the project is officially dead, and we are now stuck with an empty building and parking lot at a highly prominent corner within the city. I’m sure that the many former members of Crunch Fitness, and the many former patrons of the Chinese restaurant that shared this now-empty building, are going to be less than thrilled when they learn that the business closures seemingly were in vain.

The property seems to valuable to sit idle for long, though, so I expect that sometime soon the city will receive a new proposal for the site. It will remain to be seen whether that new proposal is a relatively low-impact one (as Tesla’s was; they were going to use the building and surrounding parking lot mostly as-is, with only minor changes) or one that will drastically change how the site is used. Given the current environment I imaging that some developers are looking at the property with an eye towards converting it to office or residential use.

The loss of Tesla, although disappointing, impacts Redwood City’s vision for the city (and projected future revenue), but has no real impact on the city’s current tax revenues. The loss of Honda Redwood City, on the other hand, will have a very real impact on the city’s budget. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been monitoring and reporting on the status of the Honda Redwood City move for some time now, and at long last it is time for one final report. Friday, June 22, was Honda Redwood City’s last day at the corner of El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue in Redwood City. Over the weekend the dealership and all of its inventory was moved to their new location in San Carlos, and on Monday, June 25, the new “Primo Honda” opened its doors to the public. I visited their old and new locations this week, and I was impressed by how quickly the dealership managed to move their operations. On Tuesday I checked out their old location and found it entirely empty:

Both the main dealership (on the east side of El Camino Real) and their used-car center directly across the street were entirely devoid of inventory. The only activity I observed was a tiny cleanup crew hauling off the last of the office furniture along with boxes of paperwork. Otherwise, the dealership was a ghost town.

I then headed up Industrial Road (in San Carlos) to check out their new digs. Curiously, although there were plenty of vehicles and the service center appeared to be active, that day the sales side didn’t appear to be quite ready to welcome customers. At least, when I was there I discovered plastic pylons blocking the closed doors to the sales floor, and although I could see a handful of employees in the sales area, none approached me or even acknowledged my presence. When was the last time you went to a new or used automobile dealer and weren’t accosted by a salesman eager to interest you in a car? Primo Honda likely was still getting their ducks in a row, and undoubtedly by the time you read this will be welcoming customers to their fancy new location.

As for that new building, I’ve been watching it closely ever since the handful of light industrial buildings that formerly occupied the site were cleared away, and I was pleased that I could finally walk up that ramp to the second-floor sales and service area.

At ground level, the entire property—including the space beneath the building—is used for parking of new and used cars, and for customer parking; the sales and service centers are both on the second floor. If you bring your car in for service, you drive right up the ramp you see in the above picture. If you are instead interested in buying or leasing a new or used car, park near the building and ascend the stairs that are just to the left of the ramp. You’ll find the doors to the sales center straight ahead and to your left. At the top of the stairs you’ll also find a nice outdoor waiting area: they have comfy outdoor chairs and couches along with umbrellas to protect you from the sun.

Regarding this dealership, Redwood City’s loss is truly San Carlos’ gain. The one small consolation is the thought that we likely won’t be stuck with an empty automobile dealership for very long: back in October the city approved a 33-unit townhouse-style condominium development for the site at El Camino and Hopkins (I have not yet heard of any plans for the small stone building across the street that formerly housed Redwood City Honda’s used car center). KB Homes will be bringing us this housing project, and I’m guessing that the fact that the project was approved in October means that development will commence sometime between now and the end of the year. A condo project won’t bring in the tax dollars that Redwood City Honda formerly did, of course, but at least we’ll get some additional, badly needed housing.

As long as I was in the area I took a peek at the nearby dealership site at the corner of El Camino Real and Whipple Avenue. This dealership has had a number of tenants over the years, the most recent being the Del Grande Dealership Group selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles. After Del Grande moved out the dealership sat empty for a while, but late last summer Land Rover Redwood City—whose main dealership is on Convention Way, right next door to the site that almost became Tesla—put up a sign and began selling used cars out of the small building closest to the intersection of El Camino and Whipple. For some time they ignored the rest of the dealership property, but lately they’ve used the remainder of the dealership’s outdoor space to park their excess inventory of new Land Rover vehicles. They still aren’t using the dealership’s main building and service bays, but at least the dealership doesn’t look empty and unoccupied.

I still see no evidence that Land Rover Redwood City will be moving from their Convention Way location, but it makes sense that they are filling the otherwise empty El Camino dealership with Land Rover vehicles. From my wanderings I’ve discovered that our various automobile dealerships don’t have nearly enough room to house their entire inventory: they lease otherwise unused properties around the city to store their cars. For instance, Honda had been (and possibly still is) keeping many of their cars on an otherwise empty lot east of 101 between Redwood City’s Police station and Docktown Marina (other dealerships use some of that land as well). And the old Century Park Theaters site, out on East Bayshore, is a veritable sea of new cars:

The Century Park Theaters property, of course, is being used by Toyota 101 and the various Boardwalk Auto dealerships which flank the former movie theater site.

Speaking of Toyota 101, they certainly appear to be in no danger of leaving. In fact, they must be doing well, since they recently submitted to the city a proposal to build an all-new dealership on their existing site. I’ll be interested to see how they continue to operate during construction—perhaps they’ll temporarily lease the dealership at El Camino and Whipple—but I’m glad to see their proposal. I’ve walked by their dealership any number of times and I will say it is not very impressive:

Contrast their existing one-story sales building, above, with the rendering of the proposed building that Toyota 101 supplied as part of their proposal:

Their plan is to entirely demolish their existing sales and service operations, which are currently housed in a pair of single-story buildings, and replace them with a single three-story building housing sales, service, and parts. Much of the dealership’s inventory will be housed on-site, using both a large surface parking lot and the building’s roof, which will be configured for rooftop parking.

Redwood City’s Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura dealerships may someday move out to join the Boardwalk Auto dealerships—assuming that the 1601 El Camino Real project is approved and developed—but they apparently will remain in operation if so. For now though, they, along with the Boardwalk Auto dealerships, the Land Rover, Lexus, and Infiniti dealerships on Convention Way, and the Ferrari/Maserati dealership on El Camino Real continue to operate and contribute valuable tax dollars to the city. The loss of Tesla, at least from a financial standpoint, isn’t much of a loss, given that the city wasn’t going to receive much in the way of sales tax dollars from them. As for Honda Redwood City, that one truly is a loss, one that I’m hoping the city will find a way to make up for.

Next Wednesday is the Fourth of July, and in the event that you are new to our community, you should know that Redwood City always celebrates the Fourth in a big way. The parade—which is always a pretty big one—begins at 10 a.m. and winds around our downtown: along parts of Winslow Street, Marshall Street, Main Street, Middlefield Road, and Arguello Street (see the map here). Most people bring camp chairs and sit along the route, and many put those chairs out early. Be aware that you cannot put chairs out before 12 a.m. on the Fourth—and also be aware that many people will be out there at midnight, to ensure that they get that “special spot.” But if you are willing to stand there is really no reason to come that early, and even with a chair you can often find a reasonably good viewing location if you show up and hour or two before the parade starts. Do bring sunscreen, a hat, and water; it often gets pretty hot on those sidewalks…

In addition to the parade, Redwood City has a number of other events on the Fourth, including a 5K run along the parade route (it takes place before the parade), a pancake breakfast (at the Marshall Street fire station), a rather elaborate chalk art event, a festival near Courthouse Square (with food booths and vendors and such), a carnival (with rides!) in the parking lot at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Winslow Street, a car show, a concert at the port of Redwood City before the fireworks, and, of course, a fireworks show over the Port of Redwood City (the fireworks start around 9:30 p.m. and can be seen from almost anywhere that has a decent view of the port area; if you want to see them from the port itself, read the FAQs and get there early). For all the details, check out the city’s web page dedicated to the day.

Because so much of the festivities takes place downtown, I need to say something about parking. Most of the parking you are accustomed to using when downtown will not be available on the Fourth. In particular, the following parking lots and garages will not be accessible:

  • The Jefferson garage (beneath the Century Theaters), the Crossing 900 (“Box”) garage, and the San Mateo County garage (on Middlefield, near Veterans) will not be accessible during the parade. Get there early (before 6:45 a.m.) if you simply must use one of these, and be aware that your car will be trapped inside until around 1 p.m. Note that regular parking rates apply on the Fourth (the County garage is free, though).
  • The Marshall Street Garage (accessible from either Marshall or Broadway) will not be accessible at all in the morning; it will open after the parade completes, sometime around 1 p.m. Parking in this garage should be free on the Fourth.
  • The Main Street parking lot (in the middle of the block between Jefferson and Main, and Broadway and Middlefield) will also be blocked off (possibly only during the parade; the city website isn’t quite clear on this).

Redwood City knows how to do the Fourth right. If you haven’t enjoyed our holiday festivities before, I strongly suggest that you plan to spend your morning, at least, downtown. And don’t forget to check out our fireworks show! It is always a good one.

2 thoughts on “Driven to Succeed

  1. Pingback: The Sporting Life | Walking Redwood City

  2. As you drive by the autorow on 101, you can still see the old sign for Century Park 12 Theatres. I’ve always wondered when they are going to take down that sign and when they are going to demolish the old theater buildings. The land could be used for more dealership car parking while they wait for any further development plans.

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