The O’Brien Auto Group’s Totem Lake Toyota of Kirkland dealership will be moving into a new 125,000-square foot space at the site of a dilapidated nearby former Graham Steel warehouse on NE 124th Street -- and will be bringing in a new neighbor.
Michael O’Brien, principal of the company, announced during the City of Kirkland’s recent Totem Lake Symposium not only the construction of the new $16 million Totoya dealership building, but also a new Volkswagen dealership that will move into the existing Toyota facility.
“That store will employ at least 100 people in technicians, administration, sales and management,” O'Brien said, noting that the Toyota dealership already employs a similar number. “It’s a year and change away. We’ll start selling Volkswagen in the Totem Lake Mall first, in December.”
Many inside the city government view the new dealership and new Toyota structure as a big step in Kirkland's ongoing effort to revitalize the Totem Lake business district.
The new Volkswagen dealership will complement an existing car dealership district in Kirkland stretching from Rose Hill to Totem Lake, including Lee Johnson Chevrolet/Mazda, Honda of Kirkland, Ford of Kirkland, Hyundai of Kirkland, Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep of Kirkland and Eastside Subaru.
“Kirkland is the heartland -- Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville and Redmond, that's the zip code heartland for car dealerships in the state of Washington,” O’Brien said.
The Graham Steel warehouse will be demolished and a brand new Toyota dealership built on the site, which is currently being used by Toyota for extra parking space.
O’Brien said his initial plans were to redevelop the Totem Lake Mall into a complex of car dealerships, with retail space, including restaurants. But that plan did not fit into the City of Kirkland’s redevelopment plan for the mall, which is currently stalled due to ownership issues and the tough economy.
O’Brien doesn’t hide his disappointment. “For the last 30 years I’ve watched Totem Lake Mall develop into nothing,” he said. “I understand the city’s concept, I get it. But it’s not a very good tax-generating business plan.”
At the same time, O’Brien said the city has been most cooperative in his current plan for the Toyota and VW dealerships. “To get a permit, the city has been wonderful. They’re very accommodating on that front.”
Work should begin on the new Toyota site in January. Redeveloping the existing Toyota store as a Volkswagen dealership should take only a couple months, he said, figuring it will open sometime in 2014. The new Volkswagen dealership will begin selling cars soon, in a temporary location at the mall.
City Councilwoman Amy Walen, who with her husband Jim Walen operates Ford of Kirkland not far away on 124th Avenue NE, said O’Brien’s plans are big news for Kirkland.
“I am thrilled we’ll have a Volkswagen franchise in Kirkland,” she said. “Dealerships are a god thing in a sale tax-based economy. Otherwise we will depend on property taxes, which make this city unaffordable for seniors and fixed-income people.
“Mr. O’Brien has a great reputation, he’s going to bring in employment and tax revenue, and auto dealerships are active in the community. They support groups like Hopelink, and community events.”
It isn’t the only business development in the works in the Totem lake area (see attached PDF file). Although the mall is in something of a holding pattern, it has welcomed a recent move there from another part of the Totem lake area by My Home Furniture and Decor.
On 124th Avenue NE and NE 116th Street in the south Totem Lake area. CamWest Development is now building a mixed structure that will include 10,200 square feet of ground floor retail/commercial space and 108 upper-floor apartment units. It will be four stories, with fifth-story lofts on its corners.
Just west of O’Brien’s Toyota of Kirkland on NE 124th, St. Andrew’s Housing Group is building a structure of 75 affordable apartment units.
In addition, the City of Kirkland is several weeks away from getting a permit to build a g at 11831 NE 120th Avenue, near the Fred Meyer store.
“The economy remains a problem” in revitalizing the Totem Lake area, Walen acknowledged. “What we can do is make sure we have flexibility in regulations that allow the economy to recover. We’ve addressed flooding issues in the Totem Lake area. We’re looking at a master plan for Totem Lake Park (around the lake itself). The Cross Kirkland Corridor runs right through the area -- that trail is critical in connecting the area to the rest of Kirkland. We can do everything we can to set the stage.”