Entrepreneur plans giant car showroom in Hanover historic building

Opposition halted similar project in Munich

Hanover, Germany. Dutch entrepreneur Willi Blankwater is converting Hanover's historic U-Boot-Halle into a center for new and used cars.

When renovation is finished in February 2006, Blankwater will rent out the 20,000-square-meter hall to 25 dealers.

Blankwater wants to lure dealers with low rents of just 8.90 euros per square meter, which is just over half the price dealers normally pay to rent a showroom.

Each dealer would rent a 500-square-meter space to display vehicles for 10 years.

Blankwater's "auto boulevard" idea was inspired by the Dutch furniture sector.

When furniture retailers suffered a sales crisis 15 years ago, the industry started experimenting with new ways of selling. This resulted in "furniture boulevards" in Dutch towns such as Maastricht and Apeldoorn.

Customers could browse around 35 independent furniture stores all located together in one building. The centers also have restaurants and nurseries.

Blankwater, who was involved in building several "furniture paradises," later started applying the concept to other sectors.

Now that the EU has liberalized rules on car sales to allow multibrand dealers, Blankwater believes that "the time has come for the auto boulevard."

His plan is to display new cars on the ground floor and used vehicles on the upper floor of the hall in Hanover.

A "children's corner," a bank branch and a technical inspection area are also being considered for the Hanover site.

Opponents to the business successfully halted a similar project in Putzbrunn, near Munich, last December after claiming that an auto boulevard there would destroy many medium-sized businesses.

But, says Blankwater: "We already have two new and better locations in the north of Munich in mind."

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