Florida dealer back in expansion mode after fortuitous delay

In North Palm Beach, Fla., the expansion that Toyota dealer Earl Stewart had lined up three years ago is back on the front burner. “We’re at the point where we see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Stewart told me earlier this month. “Things seem to be stabilizing and improving slowly.”

Still, Stewart will expand cautiously. His plan calls for a $12 million investment that will ultimately double the size of his existing 55,000-square-foot dealership. For now, Stewart is spending about $400,000 to expand his parking lot on a 1.1-acre parcel next to his dealership. He already tore down a dilapidated hotel on that property.

The major expansion won’t come until the middle of 2011. Stewart plans a five-story parking garage, automatic car wash, expanded parts and service department and additional showroom space.

Stewart originally wanted to do that major construction in 2007 and 2008. But the project was held up by arguments with city officials over the size of the garage he wanted to build. Stewart now calls that impasse a little bit of luck that came his way: He avoided the carrying costs on that $12 million investment during the worst of the downturn.

Said Stewart: “Even though I was angry at the time, it was fortuitous.”