Ole Ben Franklin Motors opens Thursday, sixth new business in south Oak Ridge

Ole Ben Franklin Motors Building and Sign

Eric Martin of Sign Co. Inc. in Knoxville installs lettering at Ole Ben Franklin Motors on South Illinois Avenue in Oak Ridge on Tuesday.

Ole Ben Franklin Motors, the largest independent used car lot in Tennessee, is expanding into Oak Ridge, and the company’s new location on South Illinois Avenue will open Thursday, the owner said Tuesday.

It will be the sixth business to open in a little more than one year in a one-third mile stretch of the busy roadway at the southern entrance to central Oak Ridge.

“We want to be part of (the growth),” said Mike Mencer, owner of the Knoxville-based company.

Mencer said the Ole Ben Franklin Motors lot at the former Dean Stallings Ford could have more than 100 cars when it opens at 9 a.m. Thursday. He said the company has a great selection of used cars, can offer financing through its own bank, and has been in business for 30 years.

“We’re not new at it,” Mencer said. “We’re very good at it.”

Mike Mencer

Mike Mencer

The selection at Ole Ben Franklin Motors includes newer-model used cars, and prices can range from $50 to $50,000.

It’s the company’s fourth car lot and first in Oak Ridge. The other three lots are on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, in Clinton, and on Chapman Highway.

“We’re going to bring it to Oak Ridge and make it even larger,” Mencer said.

Ole Ben Franklin Motors is leasing the four-acre site with an option to buy. The deal has been in the works for about five months.

The new nearby businesses, a relatively new stoplight in front of the dealership, and the volume of traffic on South Illinois Avenue all seemed to factor into Mencer’s decision to open a lot at the former Dean Stallings Ford site.

“I think it’s a great location, and I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

During a recent end-of-year interview, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson credited the tax increment financing, or TIF, that triggered the initial development along that stretch of South Illinois Avenue. Among other things, the $625,000 TIF is helping to pay for a new stoplight and road at Woodland Town Center, where Panera Bread and Aubrey’s restaurant first opened in October 2012, followed by a Aldi grocery that opened in November 2013. Other new nearby businesses include Bojangles’ restaurant and Weigel’s gas station and store.

The Woodland Town Center TIF served as a model for a larger $13 million agreement that the Oak Ridge City Council and Anderson County Commission have already approved for the redevelopment of the Oak Ridge Mall.

“We’re now ready to try that on a larger scale with the mall,” Watson said. The mall TIF still needs state approval. Watson said state officials have been briefed on the proposed agreement but haven’t signed off on it yet. That could happen in January, the city manager said.

Ole Ben Franklin Motors Sign

Ivan Rae, right, of Sign Co., and Danny Blackburn prepare to install a sign at Ole Ben Franklin Motors in Oak Ridge on Tuesday.

Mencer said Ole Ben Franklin Motors could have a grand opening later, possibly within about a month. The Oak Ridge car lot will start with about 20 employees. Mencer said the company’s lots have up to about 60 workers, and the Kingston Pike store sells about 150 vehicles per month.

“It’ll definitely bring employment into Oak Ridge,” Mencer said of the new lot on South Illinois Avenue.

The Oak Ridge location will have a transmission shop right away and grow into the former mechanics’ shop, Mencer said.

Ole Ben Franklin Motors will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and the lot will be closed on Sundays.

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  • Ellen Smith

    It’s nice to see the Dean Stallings property get a new use. Ole Ben Franklin has been working fast to put up signs, move cars in, etc.

    In the article, Mark Watson mentions that the stoplight and other improvements paid for by the Woodland Town Center TIF increased the business potential of this property. It’s also worthwhile to point out that increased property tax collections that will come from the Ole Ben Franklin site are going to help accelerate the pay-off of the financing for that TIF. That TIF is looking like a good deal all around!

    • Sam Hopwood

      Could you expand on the increased property tax collections just a bit, Ellen? I was under the impression that the TIF reduced property taxes for those receiving it for quite a few years as an inducement to locate in OR and that OR was hoping that increased sales tax would be of benefit to OR. Am I in error??

      • Ellen Smith

        A tax incremental financing (TIF) arrangement doesn’t reduce the property taxes paid. Instead, it allocates some property taxes (known as the ‘tax increment”) from the development area to paying for the TIF project.

        Under this TIF, the city industrial development board took out a loan to pay for public infrastructure work associated with the development. After that, some of the property taxes collected from the development area (specifically, the portion of property tax that is over and above would have been collected based on the assessed value of the property before the development project) are dedicated to paying off the loan. As soon as the loan is paid off, the city and county get to use the property tax for regular public purposes. The bigger the increase in property values (and thus property tax collections), the faster the TIF loan “goes away.”

        The original plan for this TIF calculated that there would be enough property tax from Aubrey’s and Panera to pay off the loan in 20 years or less, even if the property assessment didn’t increase very much and even if no other businesses opened up in the TIF area. Those were pessimistic assumptions designed to help ensure that the TIF plan wouldn’t fail. As it happens, business has been good at both Aubrey’s and Panera; two other businesses have moved into the TIF area (Aldi and Ole Ben Franklin), and there’s still room for at least one more business in the TIF area. I don’t have data, but I guesstimate that the TIF pay-off will happen in more like 5 years.

        In Tennessee, a TIF doesn’t affect sales tax. Thus, you are absolutely correct that sales taxes collected from the businesses in this development started benefiting Oak Ridge (and Anderson County) as soon as the businesses open.

        • Sam Hopwood

          So in essence, OR will not receive an increase in property taxes from TIF participants for 20 years or so. If a property tax increase is called for to balance the city budget, that increase will fall on OR’s residential property owners and OR business owners who are not part of the TIF program, correct? I suspect that this will occur in this year’s city budget…… Happy New Year. :)

          • Ellen Smith

            Um, no. Currently, Oak Ridge is using the property tax increment from those properties to pay for the infrastructure improvements in that area. As soon as the improvements are paid for — I’m estimating about 5 years total (not 20 years) — the entire property tax from those properties will go to the general fund.

        • Angi Agle

          Thanks for the very succinct clarification, Ellen. This is very good news!

    • johnhuotari

      Good point about the potential accelerated pay-off.

      Mark Watson did say during that end-of-year interview that there could be more positive announcements related to retail and jobs in Oak Ridge, although he did not elaborate. “We’re getting a lot of people looking at us,” Watson said. He cited the restructuring of the city’s approach to economic development as a significant factor.

  • Tim Mitchell

    My name is Tim Mitchell i am a pastor is knoxville and i am very pleased with Ole Ben Franklin, they just helped me find a great car, they were honest and bent over backwards to help me thank the Lord,I am very pleased with them and
    recommend them :-)

    • johnhuotari

      Tim,

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      John

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