Hyundai dealership rolls out expansion at neighborhood meeting Tuesday

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Louis Marsala looks at a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV for his wife Friday Oct. 12, 2012 at Tamiami Hyundai in East Naples. Hyundais are among the hottest-selling cars in the U.S., and Tim Zellers needs more space. The president of Tamiami Hyundai Mitsubishi and Tamiami Ford have entered into an agreement to buy the King Richards amusement park site because his dealership a few miles south on Airport-Pulling Road simply is too small, he says.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Louis Marsala looks at a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV for his wife Friday Oct. 12, 2012 at Tamiami Hyundai in East Naples. Hyundais are among the hottest-selling cars in the U.S., and Tim Zellers needs more space. The president of Tamiami Hyundai Mitsubishi and Tamiami Ford have entered into an agreement to buy the King Richards amusement park site because his dealership a few miles south on Airport-Pulling Road simply is too small, he says.

— Consumers looking for a low-priced car about 10 years ago found it in the Hyundai.

The South Korean cars may have lacked top-tier quality and style, but they were extremely affordable for Melanie Kennedy of Naples and others. She bought her first one in 2004 and keeps returning because of customer service and improved vehicle quality and eye-catching designs, she said.

"At other dealerships, I feel like I'm always bothering them or there's incredible pressure," said Kennedy, 42, in the showroom of Hyundai one afternoon this past week.

"I never really felt that here."

Customers like Kennedy explain why Tim Zellers is looking to expand his dealership. The president of Tamiami Hyundai Mitsubishi and Tamiami Ford wants to build a new Hyundai dealership up the road from his present location, 1229 Airport-Pulling Road N.

"We've built our business really on repeat customers," Zellers said.

The more than 12 acres on which he plans to build the 35,000-square-foot dealership is presently zoned for an amusement park because it's the site of King Richard's Family Fun Park, 6780 Airport-Pulling Road N. Zellers said he has the property under contract for purchase, subject to rezoning approval.

He declined to disclose the purchase price, and it's not yet entered into county records.

The public can weigh in on the planned dealership during a neighborhood informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Collier County Public Libraries' headquarters branch, 2385 Orange Blossom Drive. The county requires at least one such meeting, said Nancy Gundlach, a principal planner with county government.

The public can weigh in on the planned dealership during a neighborhood informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Collier County Public Libraries' headquarters branch, 2385 Orange Blossom Drive.

Those attending can expect to find architectural renderings of the dealership, a Power Point presentation and Zellers and others on hand to answer questions.

"We've reached out to the surrounding residents and businesses to show them what we're doing," Zellers said. "There's no RSVP, so we don't know if we should plan for 10 or 100 people."

For Zellers, the decision to expand began about two years ago. The current dealership is in the former home of Naples Nissan, an 11,000-square-foot building on the northeast corner of Airport-Pulling Road and Progress Avenue in North Naples.

Zellers' move to grow the business was obvious. Three cars fill up the showroom, right beside open cubicles for sales associates to meet with customers. Outside, rows of cars fill the lot with little room for prospective buyers to drive around.

In a white polo shirt with a Ford logo, the 54-year-old Zellers looks like other Hyundai sales associates roaming the floor and not the company's boss. He bought the Hyundai franchise in December 2008 and moved into the present location about a month later. While the Southwest Florida, state and national economy may have been struggling, Hyundai car sales have done well, he said.

"Coming into here, we felt we could be here for seven to 10 years," he said from an office in the dealership. "Business has more than doubled since we bought the franchise."

Hyundai reported a 15 percent increase in sales in September from September 2011, good for seventh place in total sales that month behind GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota and other automakers and ahead of Kia and Volkswagen.

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Cars are seen on the lot Friday Oct. 12, 2012 at Tamiami Hyundai in East Naples. Hyundais are among the hottest-selling cars in the U.S., and Tim Zellers needs more space. The president of Tamiami Hyundai Mitsubishi and Tamiami Ford have entered into an agreement to buy the King Richards amusement park site because his dealership a few miles south on Airport-Pulling Road simply is too small, he says.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Cars are seen on the lot Friday Oct. 12, 2012 at Tamiami Hyundai in East Naples. Hyundais are among the hottest-selling cars in the U.S., and Tim Zellers needs more space. The president of Tamiami Hyundai Mitsubishi and Tamiami Ford have entered into an agreement to buy the King Richards amusement park site because his dealership a few miles south on Airport-Pulling Road simply is too small, he says.

In May, Hyundai recorded its best May ever — and its second-best sales month (67,019 units) in company history.

When searching for a new site, Zellers said, he reviewed information such as traffic flow on Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads and where the majority of customers live by ZIP code.

"That facility will be closer to where they live and work," he said of the planned dealership. "Moving north is where the action is."

Plus, it's closer to retailers such as Costco, south Lee County communities such as Bonita Springs and Estero, and other dealerships, he said.

Auto dealers nearby along Airport-Pulling Road include Naples Dodge Chrysler Jeep and Bob Taylor Chevrolet.

"You have to be careful not to be too far away from the competition," Zellers said.

Zellers said he understands the emotional attachment some may have for King Richard's.

"I used to take my kids there all the time," he said.

Zellers grew up in the auto industry and graduated from Naples High School. His parents, Arlie and Genie Zellers, in 1973 founded Tamiami Ford that for years was at 4075 U.S. 41 before moving the Ford dealership to its current Airport-Pulling Road site about 20 years ago.

Zellers, who became company president in 1986, said he doesn't plan to start work on the land — pending approval — until next year.

"They're going to continue to operate throughout the season, no question," he said of King Richard's.

The dealership will cost about $3 million to construct and, when open, will employ 70 to 90 new workers. The building will feature amenities such as Wi-Fi, spacious customer service areas and iPad ports where customers may use the Internet. It also will include vehicle electric-charging stations in the showroom and service areas.

Zellers applied with the county in May to have the land rezoned, and it's safe to say the land won't be redeveloped this year, Gundlach said.

With zoning approval, Zellers said, he then must seek various permits with the county before starting construction.

"From a business aspect, it's an arduous process," he said. "It's like buying a house and not knowing if you can live there."

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Comments » 1

jonathonhewitt writes:

Well as a car dealership his chance at generating more local revenue is higher than if it stayed an amusement park. So I say it's a win/win for the dealership and the community.

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