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A Mercedes Flagship That Sets the Standard

A Mercedes Flagship That Sets the Standard

New York Times 1/6/2010

By ALISON GREGOR

Mercedes-Benz USA is building a flagship dealership in a 333,000-square-foot retail space on 11th Avenue in Manhattan, which it expects to set the style standard for all other Mercedes dealers around the country.
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Tenarquitectos Spector Group

A rendering of the 330,000 square-foot Mercedes-Benz USA dealership on 11 Avenue in Manhattan.
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Tenarquitectos Spector Group

The Clinton Park residential development, of which the dealership is part.

The dealership, which is already under construction and is scheduled to open early next year, encompasses five levels, two of which will be above ground. It is part of a 29-story residential development called Clinton Park that will occupy a half block at 770 11th Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets.

The showroom will have structural supports of glass and three sides of glass stretching up almost 30 feet from the sidewalk, facing all of 11th Avenue and parts of 53rd and 54th. The design, called Autohaus, will serve as an inspiration for Mercedes-Benz USA’s 352 full sales and service dealers, many of which will remodel their showrooms to follow suit.

“We want to make sure that all the other franchises come in here and see this dealership as something they can also achieve,” said Willi Goossen, the Mercedes-Benz USA Manhattan project manager. “We will definitely be able to show to our customers what Mercedes is all about.”

The new dealership will have 72 work bays, at least 20 more than an existing dealership owned by Mercedes-Benz USA at 536 West 41st Street. That dealership, which is about 170,000 square feet with additional rooftop parking, will close when the new one opens, Mr. Goossen said.

The company also has a retail showroom at 430 Park Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

While the Two Trees Management Company, the developer of Clinton Park, has not yet obtained financing for the 900-unit residential development, the dealership is being financed with a $90 million construction loan.

Two Trees acquired the 11th Avenue property for $130 million, a company spokeswoman, Barbara Wagner, said in an e-mail message. It plans to complete the residential portion of the project “as soon as rental demand and capital markets permit,” Ms. Wagner said.

Scott Spector, a principal at the architecture firm Spector Group, which is designing the new dealership, said the design was meant to improve both the appearance of the showroom and customer service.

For instance, there will be glass walls into the service shop, which will be on the second subterranean level, enabling customers to see their cars being serviced. The dealership will sell Mercedes-Benz, Maybach and Smart vehicles and will employ about 200 people.

By this December, Mercedes-Benz USA expects to spend about $230 million on the upgrade of its dealer network. Individual dealers around the country are investing a total of $1.4 billion.

The Autohaus initiative is a global push to align all Mercedes-Benz dealerships not only in their design, which emphasizes transparency with use of glass, but also in their customer service. Since 1992, Mercedes-Benz USA has gone from selling 63,000 to 190,000 automobiles a year nationwide, said Donna Boland, a spokeswoman for the company.

“Obviously, your retail network has to reflect that growth in volume,” she said, “but selling cars is a small part of the equation if you want repeat buyers. To keep bringing them back, you have to have the service capacity and service experience to do so.”

Those dealerships adopting the design, including the new one on 11th Avenue in Manhattan, will have a blue portal as an entryway. The theme colors will be light blue, yellow and apricot — to convey the qualities of openness, lightness and trust, the company said — and contemporary furniture.

“Autohaus as an initiative is one of comfort and convenience, but it still has that industrial feel to a given showroom,” Mr. Spector said. “So through their own studies in color and texture and feel, Mercedes-Benz came up with these sets of standards that all dealerships will work with.”

The Manhattan showroom, which will be one of the largest in the country for Mercedes, will have an elevator for cars serving all five levels, along with a spiral ramp entering from both 53rd and 54th Streets at ground level and continuing to all subterranean levels.

“There’s a whole helix ramp that connects the lower levels to the ground level,” Mr. Spector said. “It’s absolutely an engineering feat.”

Besides the ramp and elevator for cars, the dealership will have a glass elevator for customers, along with escalators and a stairway, he said. The second floor, or mezzanine, will be set back from the 11th Avenue facade to create the illusion of 30-foot ceilings in the showroom, Mr. Spector said.

One of the more striking elements of the showroom will be a “feature wall,” which will encompass several levels and show high-definition images of new Mercedes-Benz cars, specialty vehicles and historic racing cars.

“There’s going to be an audiovisual component that’s still in development that’s two or three stories within the space,” Mr. Spector said. “It will be quite kinetic, whether it’s lighting or branding images.”

Among other high-tech features, Mercedes-Benz USA is testing software at its existing location in Manhattan to allow customers to configure the car to their tastes. The technology will eventually allow Mercedes dealers to call up the stored image of the dream car and manipulate it on a giant plasma TV.

Eleventh Avenue has a row of car dealerships but has become steadily more residential as new apartment buildings have been constructed on the far West Side.

Mercedes-Benz’s current dealership has a promotional arrangement with the newly constructed Silver Towers at 600 West 42nd Street and 11th Avenue in which residents can rent Mercedes cars as a perk.

“We’re almost diagonally across the street from the Mercedes-Benz dealership,” said Larry A. Silverstein, chief executive of Silverstein Properties, which developed Silver Towers. “They came to us about the promotion, and it made sense to do it.”

Mr. Goossen said he didn’t know if Mercedes-Benz would negotiate a similar deal with Clinton Park, especially as the completion date for apartments is as yet unknown.

“The opening of this store is going to be in the first quarter of 2011, so it’s quite far out to work out these details,” he said.

In addition to the Mercedes-Benz condominium space in Clinton Park, the development is expected to include a health club, shops and a New York Police Department facility with horses.