Chamberlain turns key on Iron Mountain project

WINDSOR – After being stuck on the starting line for a year, automobile dealer John Chamberlain started construction earlier this month on the 60-acre Iron Mountain Autoplex – the region’s second auto mall.

Chamberlain, owner of the Champion Auto Group, expects to open two of his dealerships at Iron Mountain by August. A third dealership is due to open by March 2007.

The groundbreaking for Iron Mountain, located along U.S. Highway 34, about five miles east of Interstate 25, was delayed from its planned start in early 2005. Chamberlain cited a series of planning and engineering obstacles, including delays in the entitlement process, negotiating utility easements, annexation into Windsor and the extension of sewer system to the Iron Mountain site.

“In the end, it’s a lot better project,” Chamberlain said.

The first phase of the project will cover 36 acres. The first dealer due to open is Champion Chevrolet, which will relocate from its existing site in Windsor. Next in line is Champion Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge, moving from Greeley. Third on the list is a new Mazda franchise.

In its entirety, the Iron Mountain Autoplex could accommodate up to six additional dealers. “But if they’re anchor franchises, like a Ford, we could do three more,” Chamberlain said.

In the meantime, the rival auto mall – the 100-acre Motorplex at Centerra in Loveland – welcomed its first tenant in December, when Co’s BMW relocated from Fort Collins. Two more dealers are scheduled to open this fall at Centerra, which is designed to hold up to 15 dealerships.

Chamberlain’s not daunted by Motorplex at Centerra’s head start.

“What they do over there over time is of no consequence,” he said. “I don’t think it will hurt me. It may even help me.”

Early returns at Co’s BMW show that proximity to the heavily traveled I-25 corridor could be a boon to other dealers who make the move. In its first two months in business, Co’s BMW announced a 35 percent increase in sales compared to the previous year.

Chamberlain has similar expectations.

“I don’t expect a huge initial increase,” he said. “I do expect 20 to 25 percent, which is still pretty significant. I don’t have any visions of grandeur, like I’m going to double my business.”

The initiation of Iron Mountain punctuates an active period of business dealings for Chamberlain. He sold his 50 percent stake in a Chrysler-Jeep dealership in Indianapolis, and is in final talks to sell off his majority share of a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in Kansas City, Kan. He also sold his Hyundai franchise in Greeley to a local dealer.

“That way I could be streamlined and focused on this (Iron Mountain),” he said. “You can only be so many places at once.”

Chamberlain would like to use Iron Mountain for Champion-owned franchises, but hasn’t ruled out bringing in other franchise owners.

“If there’s interest from someone else, and it’s a good fit, they could go in there,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t name it Champion.”

Currently, Chamberlain’s negotiating with other manufacturers to find franchises for the second phase of Iron Mountain. “Believe it or not, there’s still a lot of franchises that aren’t up here yet.”

He’s also thinking of acquiring other existing dealers.

“I believe in the next few years there will be opportunities,” he said, alluding to the possibility that older dealers might want to sell their franchises when they retire. “I’ve positioned myself to be in a position to leverage those opportunities.”