HOLIDAY — Sun Toyota will add 60 employees — and nearby residents will get a long coveted traffic signal — when it opens a new $15-million dealership at Gulf Trace Boulevard and U.S. 19.
The dealership's plans to install the signal would put to rest nearly a decade of resident complaints about safety there.
The junction's location itself will shift 850 feet north of Gulf Trace Boulevard's current opening on U.S. 19.
The realignment was the only way the state Department of Transportation would sign off on the signals, said Rich Bekesh, of Spring Engineering, the firm handling Sun Toyota's deal. The current distance between Gulf Trace Boulevard and Sunray Drive was too short for a new light to be permitted under state rules.
The 30-acre dealership will rise from the demise of a proposed Rottlund Homes development for 182 townhouses, which fell to the downturn, Bekesh said.
Toyota's rezoning proposal goes before county commissioners Tuesday. The sale of the land, currently held by the Dimmitt family of Clearwater, will close upon approval, Bekesh said.
The new Toyota store will nearly quadruple the size of Sun Toyota's current dealership at State Road 54 and U.S. 19, going from about 24,000 square feet to 86,000 square feet. The dealership will maintain its current location as a used-car outlet.
It's a massive expansion for Sun Toyota, underlining what's been flush times for the industry, at least in Pasco.
The 60 new employees, mostly technicians with an average wage of $60,000, will bring the dealership's Pasco work force from 160 to 220, Bekesh said.
In dollar terms, that bumps its payroll up from $9-million to $12.5-million.
The expansion is part of something called Toyota Image USA, a project to give all Toyota dealerships across the country the same building concepts and layout.
"Toyota came up with the program two years ago so consumers will be able to identify Toyota stores" even from a distance, Bekesh said. "The consumer will be able to recognize it instantly. Whether you went to Atlanta or Miami or New Port Richey, the layout and concept and colors are similar."
If it's anything like the Toyota dealership in Wesley Chapel, expect Sun Toyota to open up their facilities for civic meetings too, though that decision hasn't been made yet. "They'll have space for community meetings," Bekesh said.
Sun Toyota executives did not reply to calls for comment Friday.
The realignment of Gulf Trace Boulevard, which opens a new, safer access for residents of the Westwood subdivision to the north, takes the bulk of $763,000 worth of road improvements that Sun Toyota will invest in the area, including turn lanes and the traffic signal that residents have sought for nine years.
Some of the traffic problem can be traced to Gulf Trace Elementary School and housing developments like Key Vista, Bekesh said. In 2004, Wal-Mart tried to put a store on that intersection, but pulled out in the face of angry residents already weary of traffic tie-ups.
"If you've ever gone out at 4:30 p.m. and looked at what happens at Gulf Trace, you'll see traffic backing up into northbound U.S. 19," Bekesh said. "It's a huge safety issue."
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