WESLEY CHAPEL — The sign created quite a buzz.
"Coming Summer 2011," it announced. "Wesley Chapel MINI."
Not mini warehouses. Mini Coopers. The fun little cars with the big fan base.
The area's second dealership is apparently opening a location on State Road 56 east of Interstate 75.
"Tabitha and I would be super excited not to have to drive 1 hour to get an oil change," wrote Sammy, a member of the online community called Sunshine Minis. Group members were so excited that one drove out to SR 56 just to take a snapshot of the sign so it could be posted on the Web site.
The only Tampa Bay area Mini dealer now is Ferman Mini on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. Others nearest to Pasco are in Orlando and Fort Myers.
The Wesley Chapel Mini dealership is being built by businessman Victor Young, a BMW dealer who in February opened a Lamborghini dealership in Sarasota, and partner Larry Morgan, who owns Toyota of Tampa Bay on Fletcher in Tampa as well as two Honda dealerships in Ocala and Gainesville.
Young said the pair picked Wesley Chapel after market studies showed more than 2,000 Mini owners lived in an area that stretched from central Pasco to Brandon.
Mini owners are known to be passionate about their cars, he said. Message boards are set up by Mini drivers to talk about their cars, and drivers can even buy T-shirts and other gear.
"Mini has its own sense of flair and style," he said. Although owned by the BMW Group, Minis attract a very different clientele than Beamers.
Prices for Minis range from $18,000 for a base model to $40,000 for one that's fully loaded. They can be leased for as little as $250 a month, so they're very affordable, Young said.
Site plans, already approved by the German-based automaker, call for a 14,000-square-foot showroom. The dealer will have about 75 new Minis on the lot and about 50 used cars of varying models. Site plans still have to go through the county's permitting process, but Young said he doesn't expect any problems. He hopes to break ground this summer.
Young says he expects the dealership to provide about 30 new jobs. About 40 percent of those will be in parts and service and the others in sales.
The central Pasco area has been a prime spot for new car dealerships lately. Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan and Kia have all opened on State 54 in the past couple of years. Buddy Foster, who owns a Chevy dealership in Zephyrhills, fought to move it to property he owns near the proposed Mini location. Competitors challenged him, and the matter went before a judge.
Foster, who still operates in Zephyrhills, ultimately prevailed. But he said that with the downturn in the economy, he will stay put for now.
"With the way things are now, we're better off to sit where we are," he said.
As for Young, he's already sifting through e-mails sent to him by Mini enthusiasts from the Wesley Chapel area.
He said he wants to host events or let club members meet there.
"We definitely want to work with them," he said.