Three years after its previous effort came up short in Short Pump, a national used-car retailer that’s been revving up its local presence is now eyeing the city for one of its signature “car vending machine” towers.
Carvana is planning a multistory car vending machine structure and offices at 2201 Westwood Ave., according to a land disturbance permit application filed with the city.
A description states the project would involve construction of a 12-tier “Carvana Vehicle Vending Machine” and office space, and demolition of a 17,000-square-foot office building on the site. The 1.6-acre property, at the intersection of Westwood and North Hamilton Street, is just west of Scott’s Addition and across the street from the new Topgolf facility.
The property currently houses the U.S. sales headquarters for ERNI Electronics, which is moving to Chesterfield County.
Carvana’s application comes three years after it proposed a similar facility on land along Interstate 64 near Short Pump, within a mile of Richmond-based competitor CarMax’s original location. It withdrew the proposed “auto fulfillment center” after failing to find agreement with neighboring property owners who had a say in the land’s use.
The Westwood proposal also coincides with the company receiving approval from Chesterfield County for a $40 million, 200,000-square-foot vehicle inspection and processing center in Chester. County supervisors approved that project Oct. 23, the day after Carvana’s Westwood application was filed with the city.
Plans for the Westwood project could not be viewed Tuesday at City Hall, which was closed for Election Day.
If anything like the Short Pump proposal and Carvana’s vending machines in other markets, the facility would involve a glass-and-steel tower that displays and dispenses cars to customers who purchase them online. The Short Pump tower was planned at 71 feet in height, or 6½ stories, and appeared in renderings to have eight tiers for vehicles. The Westwood tower would total 12 tiers.
The prior proposal also included an 8,200-square-foot fulfillment center that would have employed 20 workers.
The engineer on that project was to be Warrenton-based Bohler Engineering. Raleigh-based Kimley-Horn is listed as the engineer for the Westwood project.
The Westwood location is beside youth performing arts school SPARC and across Westwood from Interstate 195 and Topgolf – one of several developments fueling investment interest in the Westwood Avenue corridor.
While across the train tracks that form the northwestern border of Scott’s Addition proper, the stretch of Westwood that Carvana is eyeing is described in property records as part of the city’s Scott’s Addition assessment area.
The latest city assessment valued the corner property at $543,000, while the building to be demolished is valued at $908,000, bringing the property’s total assessment to $1.45 million.
ERNI has operated there since buying the 1980s-era building in 2008 for $1.19 million. Property records show the company purchased it from Amelia and Freddy Cobb, the latter the CEO of locally based Cobb Technologies.
ERNI announced in March that it will invest $25 million and create about 105 new jobs at a production and distribution facility it planned to build on 11 acres in Chesterfield’s Waterford Business Park. An announcement from Chesterfield Economic Development said the Switzerland-based company would be releasing hiring information for the facility later this year.
A call to ERNI was not returned Tuesday.
Carvana’s media department did not respond to an email seeking comment. The permit application lists the company’s contact as Jenn Roldan. She directed questions to the media department.
The company previously has worked with local attorney Andrew Condlin, who represented Carvana in its Short Pump proposal and in its Chester distribution facility. Condlin, with Scott’s Addition-based Roth Jackson Gibbons Condlin, said Tuesday he is not involved with the Westwood application.
The Chester facility, presented publicly in June, is approved for a 183-acre site at 13504-15100 Woods Edge Road, along the east side of Interstate 95 just north of Ruffin Mill Road. The non-customer-facing facility would serve as a distribution hub and processing facility for as many as 9,000 vehicles at a time.
The two-story facility would not include a vending machine tower or be open to the public. It would add to an existing distribution space that Carvana currently uses at an undisclosed location in Petersburg.
20 towers so far
Founded in 2013, Carvana sells vehicles through its website that are typically shipped to distribution sites and delivered to customers at their homes or businesses.
Customers who want to pick up their cars at a physical location can do so via the car vending machines. Purchasers are mailed a token that they use to activate the vending machine, which then automatically lowers and presents the purchased car.
Last year, Carvana opened its largest vending machine tower to date – a nine-story structure holding 34 cars – in Tempe, Arizona, where the company is based. The company built its 20th tower this past August in Los Angeles. Towers closer to Richmond have been built in Washington, D.C.; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; and Nashville, Tennessee.
The company entered the Richmond market in mid-2016 and has maintained a visible presence, including so-called billboard advertising “blitzes” along area interstates, such as one currently visible along a stretch of I-95 in the vicinity of the Chester facility site.
The now-publicly traded company trades under CVNA in the New York Stock Exchange, with stock valued at $81.52 per share at closing Tuesday. It reported $1.95 billion in net sales and operating revenues in 2018, up from $858.8 million in 2017.