Recreational vehicle dealers operating in the massive American RV Expo in Colton, Calif., want some financial help from the city or they could pick up and move on down the road, according to a report in the Press-Enterprise, Riverside.
Three dealerships currently lease space from Villelli Enterprises Inc., an investment firm in La Habra that has owned the 22-acre auto park since 1989.
But Villelli, for the first time, has offered to sell them the land, said Dave Altman, owner of Altman’s Winnebago, which rents eight acres in the Expo.
Buying the land would allow the dealerships to expand and ensure their future in Colton.
“Why rent when you can own,” Altman said.
To justify the investment, however, the dealers want the city to help pay for a major, coordinated regional advertising campaign.
“They pull in a lot of buyers from greater than 60 miles away – Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties – not necessarily from this vicinity, so it costs more to advertise,” said Candace Cassel, Colton’s economic development director.
“We’re not in Beverly Hills, so you have to draw people in,” added McMahon’s RV owner Brent McMahon, who has leased 3.3 acres at the Expo for five years.
While the dealers noted that cities along Interstate 10 – which generates much more traffic than Interstate 215 – would welcome them, both said they’d rather stay put.
“Colton has a chance to market this as the largest consortium of RV dealers in the nation,” McMahon said. “It’s a big, big deal. Colton can be a dominant force.”
The dealerships, along with five others along Colton’s self-dubbed “Miracle Mile of RVs” on the west side of I-215, generate about $2 million in annual sales-tax revenue for the city, 6% of its general fund, Cassel said.
The Press-Enterprise reported that between 1986 and 2001, the city’s redevelopment agency supported the Expo and another RV dealership by giving back half of that revenue. The city also pitched in $150,000 in 2001 to help fund two regional advertising campaigns.
“Cooperative advertising makes a bunch of sense,” said Andy Coyle, owner of Canyon RV. “The idea is to have one destination where RV shoppers can look at all the dealerships. It’s the same concept as an auto mall.”
Although Canyon left the Expo in 2004 after 10 years, Coyle said he would like to participate in a group ad campaign.
“A final formula hasn’t been agreed to. Total sales would probably be the obvious way to measure each,” he added.
A new agreement, discussed on and off for five years, could reach the Colton City Council in October, Cassel said.
Neither side would discuss financial details.
“They are a major part of our economy, so it’s important that we find a way to help them,” she said about the dealerships. “If they grow, we grow.”
Several dealers have moved out of the Expo over the years and purchased their own land because they have grown so much in Colton.
In 1998, for instance, Montclair-based Giant RV, which has six locations and sold more RVs than any dealership in the nation last year, moved its Colton facility north from the Expo to 13 acres less than a mile away.
Canyon RV followed in 2004, leaving the Expo to build a 25,000-square-foot service, parts and sales building on six acres northwest of Giant RV.
Even the dealerships still in the Expo have added space beyond its borders.
Last year, Altman’s, which also has stores in Baldwin Park and Irvine, bought a vacant movie theater adjacent to the Expo, for a service center.
McMahon’s recently leased 1.5 acres a couple miles away to create its own service center.
“We think this can be really successful, but it will require a group effort,” Altman said. “And we need to get some help from the city.”