Ottawa's oldest Honda dealership selling land for redevelopment

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Dow Honda wants to escape construction, downtown

The Dow Honda dealership, lying on lots cobbled together over 40 years and three generations, is looking for a new home.

Owner Jeff Mierins says he is in the process of selling the property to a local developer that plans to construct a mixed-use building featuring condos, retail and office space.

Mr. Mierins would not name the developer because of a confidentiality agreement, but Richcraft Homes planner Kevin Yemm confirmed his company is purchasing the property. However, Mr. Yemm declined to discuss the developer's plans for the site.

MOVING OUT

"I see myself as the last car dealership in a downtown area," Mr. Mierins says. "They've all moved out. I see the writing on the wall."

Mr. Mierins - who also owns Star Motors of Ottawa on West Hunt Club Road - is no stranger to the local automotive market, with family members owning various other dealerships in town. His experience allows him to realize that it's time to go, he says.

Two years of construction on Preston Street, from 2008-10, made it difficult for customers to reach the dealership across from Dow's Lake, and its street frontage has been steadily shrinking after Carling Avenue went from two lanes to four, then to six.

Looking ahead to the city's plans to expand the adjacent O-Train line, Mr. Mierins says it's just not practical to stay put right next to the railway tracks.

Various renovations over time have led to inefficiencies in the location. Walking into the Dow Honda dealership, one notices that there are two unconnected buildings that make up its offices. Many of its vehicles are stored in Kanata's Honda dealership because they simply won't fit, Mr. Mierins says.

WHERE TO?

A new location has yet to be chosen, but on the wish list is a one-hectare lot - larger than its current 0.7 hectares - with frontage on a major street. It also can't be too close to the other four Honda dealerships across the city.

But Mr. Mierins has given Dow Honda and its 54 employees the gift of time: when the property sale is finalized, the dealership will have a minimum of two years to relocate. He expects the deal to be finalized this year, with an unconfirmed closing date.

ONCE UPON A TIME...

A house built in the 1920s used to sit on the west side of the dealership, and in 1957 Mr. Mierins' grandfather and father began a campaign to try and buy the property from the woman who owned it. But the woman's son was missing in action after the Second World War and she refused to move in case he ever returned home. She passed away at the age of 100, but her daughter held on just as tightly to the property. When she too died suddenly, Mr. Mierins went through a lengthy process to secure the land and struggled with the city to gain a demolition permit.

"After three generations, we were able to purchase the home and make it into a dealership," he says. "From 1957 to 1995, that's how long it took."

But despite the family struggle to establish the dealership in central Ottawa, all of Mr. Mierins' family members support the decision to now leave.

"It's like that guy in Japan," he says. "There was a cabbage farmer in Toyko and he wouldn't sell his property, so he had a cabbage farm surrounded by highrises. I don't want to be that guy."

SO LONG

The dealership's boardroom bulletin board is covered with cutouts of the Claridge Tower, a 42-storey building proposed by Claridge Homes that would be the highest in all of Ottawa if built next to Dow's Lake as planned. Mr. Mierins has been tracking its progress and admits he debated whether he could get involved in its development.

He decided, he says, to leave development to the developers, which is what he will do with the Dow Honda site as well.

"I'm happy with the deal that I've done," he says. "I think the city will benefit from it, too. This whole neighbourhood will benefit from the redevelopment of the property. A car dealership isn't the highest and best use of this property. I recognize that now."

Richcraft Homes

Claiming to be the largest landowner in Ottawa, Richcraft Homes' website states it has sold more than 11,000 units at an average of 500 homes per year. The developer builds homes, condos and communities across Ottawa.

Bureaucracy woes

The City of Ottawa needs to make it easier for businesses to succeed, Mr. Mierins says. During his years as a car dealership owner, he has noticed various inadequacies in the local system. He suggests:

The city offer a deferred tax or a tax break for businesses operating in a construction zone. "Their policies and procedures are such that they have no empathy and no regard for the businesses that are paying taxes," he says of the municipal government. The argument that construction will be worth it upon completion doesn't take into consideration losses suffered during the (often lengthy) construction period.

City planners should be paid according to how many permits they write, to encourage efficiency. "It's like the gestation of an elephant," Mr. Mierins says about how long it takes to obtain permits from the city. "There doesn't seem to be any urgency on their behalf when things need to get done." The city should also look to other major Canadian cities to compare efficiencies and see how Ottawa ranks, which, according to Mr. Mierins, won't be very well.

Honda dealership locations in Ottawa:

Civic Motors (1171 St. Laurent Blvd.)

Dow Honda (845 Carling Ave.)

Hunt Club Honda (2555 Bank St.)

Kanata Honda (2500 Palladium Dr.)

Ottawa Honda (955 Richmond Rd.)