Balise Unveils $9 Million Plan to Reshape Its South End Complex
That’s the term Mike Balise, vice president of Balise Motor Sales, used early and often to describe the auto group’s Hyundai dealership on East Columbus Avenue in Springfield’s South End, a nearly century-old building that underwent roughly $1 million in renovations in 2007.
“It’s older, but serviceable,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the term, as well as the adjective ‘cramped,’ applies to the showroom, which can accommodate only two vehicles, the service area, the service waiting area, and the bathrooms. Even the small parcel of land features very little space between the road and the front door. “It’s definitely an old-timer building.”And in this day and age, ‘serviceable’ and ‘cramped’ don’t meet the needs and expectations of either carmakers or their customers, said Balise, adding quickly that what does register is anything worthy of the term ‘state of the art.’
And that phrase can definitely be attached to not only a new Hyundai dealership, but the other components of a $9 million project, due to commence later this summer, that will dramatically change the landscape on that portion of East Columbus Avenue.
Plans call for demolishing Balise’s Ready Credit used-car operation, located a few hundred feet south of the current Hyundai store, and building a new home for the Korean automaker’s products there, and then demolishing what will then be the old Hyundai store to make room for both a new Ready Credit facility and a car wash — a relatively new line of business for Balise — that will likely be intended for internal use but may eventually open to the public.
The East Columbus Avenue project is the latest — and probably the last, “at least for now” — for the company in Western Mass., said Balise, noting that every dealership in the regional portfolio has been replaced or substantially renovated over the past eight years, with investments totaling more than $30 million.
The project list includes new facilities for Balise Toyota, Balise Lexus, and Balise Honda, all on Riverdale Street in West Springfield; Balise Chevy Buick GMC on West Columbus Avenue in Springfield; and Balise Ford on Boston Road in Wilbraham. Meanwhile, the Balise Mazda facility, also on Riverdale Street, has been renovated.
And that’s just in this market. There have also been a number of renovation and new-construction projects on Cape Cod and in Rhode Island, where Balise has greatly expanded its footprint over the past several years.
The investments have been necessary, said Balise, because car buying is changing, and both consumers and automakers are expecting, if not demanding, more from the dealers.
Such is the case with Hyundai, he noted, adding that the brand has gone from being mostly ridiculed when it made its debut roughly 30 years ago, to being one of the most respected in the business, with popular mid-priced models such as the Accent, Elantra, and Sonata, and a successful foray into the luxury market with the Genesis and Equis.
“That brand has become a juggernaut, and it deserves more,” said Balise, adding that ‘more,’ in this case, comes in the form of a dealership that will be substantially larger (30,000 square feet as opposed to the current 18,000) and more customer-friendly in many ways.
There will be room to display up to eight cars in the new showroom, said Balise, adding that the service area will be expanded from 10 bays to 16, and the service waiting area will be larger and have the many amenities that customers now expect, including comfortable chairs and high-definition television.
“There will be a definite ‘wow’ factor with this new facility,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, with this sizable investment, Balise may — that’s may — be in a position to acquire more inventory, something that has become an ongoing challenge for many Hyundai dealers as the company struggles to match production volume with demand for its products.There is a similar challenge in the used-car market, said Balise, adding that inventory remains elusive at a time when many consumers are hanging onto their vehicles for a decade or more, on average. Still, the Ready Credit component of the Balise portfolio, which gives special credit considerations to those with no credit or credit problems, has been a valuable asset, not only in Western Mass. but also on the Cape, he noted, and the South End development project will provide a better showcase for that venture.
As for the car wash, Balise said the company now has such facilities on the Cape and in Rhode Island, and they have proven an effective way to add value for those getting their cars serviced at a dealership, but also a cost-effective way to help better present cars for sale on the lot.
“It speeds up the process of reconditioning cars,” he explained, adding that the phrase ‘state of the art’ now also applies to car washes, meaning that these facilities can do a lot of the work that once had to be done by hand to make cars look presentable. “This car wash we have on the Cape gets the cars so much cleaner than you would think a machine could.”
Work is slated to begin on the demolition of the current Ready Credit facility in late July, said Balise, adding that the business will be relocated to another site on the property until its replacement is constructed. The project should be completed by the end of 2015. n
— George O’Brien