Trading spaces: Dealership to get new showroom, sales facility

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

COVINGTON -- It's been a long process, but Covington Ford Mercury is set to begin construction of a new showroom and sales facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Dealership owner Wendell Crowe said this week that he anticipates construction on the new facility to begin within a month or so and be completed within 365 days of the closing of the sale of his current property -- which was Wednesday.

Crowe said he was first approached three or four years ago by real estate agents representing Walgreens who asked if he was interested in selling his current location on U.S. Highway 278. A year or so later, one real estate agent expressed more serious interest, and Crowe said he began to research possible new locations for his dealership.

While the current location has served Covington Ford since 1962, Crowe said the property was landlocked, preventing any expansion, and the building has become outdated and unattractive. The dealership was founded by Crowe's father in 1941 in downtown Covington. Crowe took over the operation in the early 1970s. His two sons, Matt and Wes, are also part of the family operation.

As Crowe continued to look for a new home for Covington Ford, he said negotiations with the buyer for his property went back and forth. During that time, Crowe said he was prohibited from commenting on the deal due to a confidentiality agreement with Walgreens.

Even after an agreement was reached on the sale of the land, there were other obstacles to overcome. Crowe said tests by the state Environmental Protection Division indicated the need for environmental cleanup at the site and at the former Shell gas station at the corner of U.S. Highway 278 and Elm Street, which is adjacent to the dealership property. Crowe does not own that property. The cleanup was finally completed this summer.

In the meantime, Crowe had settled on 6-plus acres of land on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive owned by the Neely estate. Because time is of the essence, Crowe said the Neely estate had already begun grading the property prior to Wednesday's closing in anticipation of a tight construction timeframe.

Jeff Westall of Westall Architects in Chamblee said the new building will encompass 25,000 square feet and include a showroom, offices, two-stall quick lube service and truck and diesel service. Crowe said the body shop will remain at the U.S. 278 location, where Crowe will retain ownership of that portion of the property.

The exterior design of the new building is determined by Ford Motor Co., but Westall said the design of the interior will be tailored to suit the owners.

"The most exciting thing for us is that it is designed as a LEED project," said Westall.

LEED is a building certification system that provides third-party verification that a building was designed and built using "green" standards.

"Originally, as a design firm, we were working to have it just be certified LEED," Westall added. "But Mr. Crowe pushed us because he wanted to achieve a higher rating than just certified. Our goal is to achieve gold certification."

The new facility will feature high performance glass, increased insulation, a system to reduce water consumption and on-site renewable energy through the use of solar panels.

"It will be the first LEED auto dealership in the state of Georgia, and it's our understanding that it will be the first Ford LEED dealership in the country," Westall said.

Not only will the LEED certification mean a smaller carbon footprint for the dealership, it also will be beneficial to employees by reducing the amount of chemicals used in paint and carpeting.

"The research shows that a properly done LEED facility does improve the health of the people who work in it, and that was important to Wendell," Westall said. "He's been doing this stuff before it was fashionable."