New Roanoke CarMax viewed by many as more than just a used car lot

The nation's largest used car retailer wants in on Roanoke's success

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - On Monday, Roanoke City Council approved the sale of nearly 12 acres of land for a new CarMax dealership on Peters Creek Road. This comes as the city is set to hit 100,000 residents for the first time in decades and the nation's largest used car retailer sees a clear connection.

While some may see it as just another car lot sprinkled on the Peters Creek corridor, others see it as a big win. The company is based in Richmond and is known for mostly operating its stores in larger metro areas. They're set to invest several million dollars in the project, and for many this is proof the needle is moving in the right direction.

The Peters Creek lot has sat empty for 10 years, but that is soon to change. After a unanimous vote Monday night, the city sold the lot to CarMax. The company has been watching Roanoke for some time.

"When they looked at Roanoke, they enjoyed the vibrancy of Roanoke, the downtown area and the fact that over the last few years we've had several announcements," Roanoke City Economic Development acting director Rob Ledger said. "Those were all indicators for them that (Roanoke) is a location for them."

In a proposal to the city, CarMax offered just more than $1 million for the 11.8 acre site. That's slightly less than the land's tax assessed value, and significantly less than the city's $1.6 million asking price. But the city was more than happy to do it because of the scope of the potential project. The preliminary plans show the concept for the car lot, which has become popular for its no-haggle pricing. It currently operates about 200 stores in 41 states.

"I think there's been a lot of job growth over the last 10 years and a lot of population growth, so those are some factors and there's a lot more that goes into it but I think Roanoke is just on a great trajectory and it's something we'd love to be a part of," CarMax real estate manager Keith Henerson said.

CarMax's other stores are primarily in major metro areas, although they do operate in some smaller cities like Lynchburg. Despite what some say have been downturns in the Roanoke Valley, CarMax sees the current growth and the growth potential as attractive options.

"It's one of those kind of validating things, any time a business invests in our community either to locate here or expand here, is affirmation that things are going where we would hope they would," Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell said.

CarMax says it doesn't have any set criteria or requirements for moving to a market such as population size, population age or median household income. A spokesperson did however say in an email that CarMax evaluates several factors when choosing sites and they've identified Roanoke as a growing retail corridor and good for its growth plans.

So while a new car lot may not seem like a big deal, city leaders see it as a great thing.

"When they recognize you in a place that they want to locate in, and they only do about 10 or 15 a year, you know that they've reached their attention and if we've reached CarMax's attention, who else have we reached?" Ledger said.

CarMax has time to tidy all loose ends and make sure everything is set before closing on the property's sale, which hinges on a re-zoning. There's about a year for all of that to happen and the city expects CarMax to move as quickly as it can.

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