Auto mall plans defy difficulties faced by car dealers

In spite of tough economic conditions and a domestic auto industry suffering though a prolonged slump, a move is in progress to establish a large car dealership at the intersection of State Route 16 and Sedgwick Avenue in Port Orchard.

Developer Fred Depee gained approval to annex the six-acre plot into Port Orchard on Dec. 30.

Depee is acting as an agent for a consortium, about which he is unable to provide any details due to a privacy agreement.

He will only say that the group in question has opened successful auto dealerships throughout the country.

Depee said that when he bought the land, “It had a junkyard and a drug house.”

He has pursued several options for the land, including a health club and a storage facility, but was unable to find partners.

His new associates, who approached him, could locate up to three different dealerships on the land.

The first, which he said would sell “pre-owned cars,” could open as soon as this spring, according to Depee.

The shrinking economy and the ongoing auto industry bailout has discouraged auto sales, to the point where local dealer Van Vlist said, “Opening a new dealership in this market would be suicide.”

Vlist, who owns a dealership in Port Orchard, predicts that several local new car dealers will close due to market saturation.

In the meantime, he expects his own business to remain stable.

Depee isn’t deterred, saying that economic conditions are “academic” in relation to his proposal. “These people have a long, successful track record,” he said. “They know what they’re doing.

“People are talking about the bad economy like it is going to last forever,” Depee said. “It’s only going to last for a year or two, and we need to plan for the future.”

While the first dealership could open in a few months, the full development of the facility will follow a five- to seven-year plan, according to Depee.

Several local dealers declined to comment about the possibility of a new dealership and how it would affect their business. In the meantime, Depee said his associates are keeping their plans close to the vest.

“If another dealership hears these plans they could do it themselves,” Depee said.

The target market for the new dealership would begin as far south as Gig Harbor and extend upward into the Kitsap Peninsula.

Once the deal is completed Depee, who is a local developer and a member of the Kitsap County Planning Commission, plans to divest himself of the property and sell the land to his partners.

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