But instead of holding a gala grand opening this year, Doll, 62, will watch as his project, now 90 percent finished, is sold at fire-sale prices. Doll's company, Doll & Doll Motor Co., is in Chapter 11 reorganization, sunk by a one-two punch of depleted capital and depressed real estate prices.
The collapse in car sales ravaged his cash flow, and the deep recession slashed real estate prices, undermining the financial assumptions which underlined his ambitious project.
If no buyer is found, his property will be auctioned on the courthouse steps on Jan. 5, according to a Dec. 8 legal notice in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. The court and Nissan must agree on a winning bid by Jan. 22.
Doll no longer is receiving new vehicles from Nissan, which shut down his existing store across town. Doll's other operation, Doll Cadillac-Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Americus, Ga., also has no new-vehicle inventory because Nissan canceled his inventory financing. Calls to that store last week were not answered.
Doll's Chevrolet store in Centreville, Ala., also is closed, Alabama authorities say.
Doll's tribulations took an even worse turn this month when, in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings in Georgia, he learned that his adult daughter had died unexpectedly at her home in Florida. Doll, a Vietnam War vet who is active in Georgia Republican Party politics, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Meanwhile, according to one of the participants in the construction project who asked not to be identified, a group of Doll's friends from around town have collected $1.2 million in cash to help Doll as his business implodes.
The death of Doll's daughter briefly halted the dismantling of his assets. But creditors and potential bidders soon were meeting again to acquire the Columbus Nissan franchise -- with or without the uncompleted showcase store.
According to a key project participant, the $9 million simply wasn't enough.
"He just ran out of money," says Larry Phillips, owner of Phillips Construction Co., which was building the dealership. Phillips says the project's cost had exceeded $11 million before his crews were forced to stop work on it. Nissan's requirements for a new dealership in a market the size of Columbus had called for a 21,000-square-foot store. Doll's was 42,000, on a 14-acre site.
Phillips, a soft-spoken man with a Deep South accent, knows the local dealerships. In recent years, as brands sought more modern architecture, his Columbus firm has constructed BMW, Acura, Ford, Mercedes and Dodge stores in town.
Phillips knew Doll and his family when he contracted for the job. He quoted Doll a modest contractor's fee for the job. Now Phillips' own company is out $1.6 million on the project. Phillips fears he will never get it and that the unpaid bills will destroy his company.
"I don't think we can take a $1.6 million hit and survive," he says. "I've known Rob a long time, and I'm not mad at him. Bless his heart; he's going to suffer more than I am."
In the Columbus community, the project's collapse also is endangering Phillips' subcontractors, the small construction firms that buy the sort of heavy pickups and commercial vehicles Ford and GMC sell -- and which Rob Doll Nissan was to begin selling in 2010. Phillips says he has worked with the subcontractors' fathers and grandfathers over the years but believes they will be wholly justified to sue him over the Doll project.
"I put my faith in the Lord," Phillips says. "Whatever happens here is His will. I just hope He sees fit to find Rob a buyer and clean this mess up."