1. Business

AutoNation to build Pasco's first Mercedes-Benz dealership in Wesley Chapel

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Published Mar. 20, 2014

WESLEY CHAPEL — The luxury car market is coming to Pasco County.

AutoNation has announced plans to build a $17 million Mercedes-Benz dealership at the northeast corner of State Road 56 and Interstate 75. Construction should begin in May and finish by December.

"Just in time for the holidays," said Marc Cannon, senior vice president of the Fort Lauderdale-based company, also the nation's largest auto dealer.

The 45,000-square-foot dealership will sit on about 6 acres and include a 21,000-square-foot showroom and 22 service bays, Cannon said. It represents a $17 million investment in the Wesley Chapel area. Records show the company paid about $5 million for the property in September. It will be the company's 19th Mercedes store.

"Tampa Bay is an up-and-coming market, and clearly Mercedes sees an opportunity to better serve the market," Cannon said.

The store will deal in new and used Mercedes-Benz vehicles, as well as other high-end used cars. Cannon said it should create about 100 jobs in sales and service, as well as 30 to 50 construction jobs during the building phase. Currently, the nearest Mercedes outlet is on Dale Mabry Highway north of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

In the past, Pasco was more of a discount store type of county. But the construction of higher-end neighborhoods along the State Roads 54 and 56 corridors during the housing boom shifted demographics. Also, the announcement in 2009 of T. Rowe Price's plans to build a new office complex on State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes, as well as Raymond James' proposed expansion at Wiregrass and the opening of two hospitals in Wesley Chapel and Trinity promised growth in the high-wage financial and health care sectors.

Records show Wesley Chapel outpacing the rest of the county in affluence. The latest census figures show its median household income is $73,832, well above the $43,787 for Pasco as a whole and $47,309 for the state.

Poverty levels in Wesley Chapel are also lower, at 7.7 percent, compared with the entire county's 13.7 percent and the state's 15.6 percent.

"We have a different demographic," said Jeff Novotny, president of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and a partner with an engineering firm.

The market has recognized that. In 2008, Kiefer Village Jewels' Land O'Lakes store became the county's first authorized Rolex dealer.

State Road 56 is becoming a popular spot for European cars. Mini opened a dealership in 2011, and last month, Volkswagen announced plans to build a dealership just east of I-75.

"Anytime a dealership comes into a community, it means they've done their homework," said Hope Allen, the chamber's executive director. "To have them come to our area and have 100 new quality jobs is great for the community."

Novotny pointed out that Wesley Chapel High School has an automotive career academy, and the new dealers will make for good partnerships.

Plus, luxury car owners won't have to drive far for service.

"It will help keep people local," he said.