BELLEVILLE — More jobs and expanded services are planned for the now larger Oliver C. Joseph dealership.
Oliver C. Joseph Chrysler Dodge Jeep completed its purchase of Wagner Motor Car Co. Thursday afternoon and became Oliver C. Joseph Buick GMC.
Neither new owner Brad Joseph nor his new employee and salesman Rusty Wagner would disclose the terms of the sale Friday, but Joseph said: "I will say that it was much more complex than I ever imagined. Not because of dealing with Rusty or dealing with me, it was just that I was very naive."
The two dealerships operated directly across the road from each other on Illinois 15 for the past five years and are now one dealership. Like Wagner, Wagner's employees are now Oliver C. Joseph employees.
Joseph said the two dealerships form an $80 million company and sold a combined 2,000 vehicles last year. The new company has 90 employees and $12 million in inventory between the two lots that sit on opposite sides of the highway. Joseph said two more people were hired Friday and there are plans to add more jobs along with expanded hours and services.
"The whole synergy of this whole event and this whole deal is critical," Joseph said. "Everybody has got to work together to make this a rousing success."
Joseph, who is the third generation owner of the dealership that was established in Belleville in June 1914, approached Wagner, a fourth generation owner of the dealership his great-grandfather founded in Belleville in 1912, about six months ago about a potential sale. Wagner said he had been thinking about who would succeed him after his eventual retirement.
"He said, 'I just want to let you know that I would be interested.' That's what happened," Wagner said. "I've got no kids to pass this onto. None of my three children are in the business at all. Being 63 years old, you have to look at that. I'm too young to retire but not stupid enough to know that if somebody wants to buy something like this, you better strike while the iron's hot. He was interested and I needed some help, so it was perfect."
Joseph said he thought about talking to Wagner about buying his business in recent years, but only after taking a road trip to visit his daughter in Seattle did he seriously consider making an offer.
"I thought about it probably for two or three years, but never really seriously," Joseph said. "I thought about having another line of automobiles to hedge my bets, if you will, to diversify my company, and I had looked into a few other ones, but never very seriously, in all honesty, until that trip the last week of July, first week of August."
"It was in the back of my mind to move this business at some point within the next five or six years, based on my age, and the opportunity presented itself," Wagner said,
Wagner moved his dealership to Illinois 15 in 2007 after years at 4400 North Belt West.
Then, in May 2009, General Motors terminated its sales agreement with the Belleville Buick GMC dealership and ceased sending vehicles and parts. However, Wagner was able to reinstate the dealership by that September.
The city gave the dealership, during the course of six years, more than $2.4 million in the form of grants, rebate of incremental property tax increases and sales tax abatement of building materials, according to Mayor Mark Eckert.
Here's a breakdown of the incentives:
* $700,000 from tax increment financing funds to reimburse Wagner for the purchase of 10 acres at Illinois 15 and developments to the land in 2005.
* $900,000, in two equal payments in 2006 and 2007, for Wagner's move to Illinois 15.
* $152,000 grant from TIF money in 2010 to help the dealership reinstate its General Motors franchise.
* $650,000 worth of rebates from the increase in property taxes generated from the development of the Illinois 15 area, which was farmland annexed from the county to the city. Of this amount, the city gave a portion in the form of an advance from TIF money to the dealership in 2010 to help reinstate the franchise.
In exchange, Wagner committed to investing at least $6 million to build the new dealership, have 43 full-time equivalent employees and operate for at least another 25 years.
Eckert said the city and Wagner both fulfilled most of the terms of the agreement.
Eckert said he believes the city already has recouped the $2.4 million in incentives in the form of sales tax and increased property tax.
In a good year of car sales, Wagner told Eckert the city gets at least 1 percent in sales tax revenue, or $300,000. And, at this point, any incremental property tax increase from the site goes back into tax increment financing district No. 16 as "profit" for the city.
The city's return on the investment also includes building a corridor with two car dealerships that drew in the Belleville Crossing shopping center, Eckert said.
"They pretty much paid back the city everything they were given," Eckert said. "Anyone who thinks the city got shortchanged just doesn't get it."
On Friday, Wagner said that Joseph's purchase still satisfies the terms of the incentives that the city had provided.
"My object was to try to find a solution where I could guarantee that this store, my dream, would continue to operate here, my employees would have the opportunity to maintain their jobs here and that the city of Belleville wouldn't lose these two franchises because frankly, there is quite a bit of interest in the two franchises, but not necessarily here," Wagner said. "I did not like that idea at all and when Brad came to me, it was the perfect opportunity. There's good synergy between us, 98 years in business for them and 100 years in business for us. Longevity in one town and two family stores, that's pretty good."
"The city of Belleville is quite fortunate that they have had a family like the Wagners here that worked so hard to keep this place going in very difficult times," Joseph said. "The hand that they were dealt was very unfair and it was a result of a perfect storm."
Joseph said Wagner will primarily work where Joseph's office has been since it opened in August 2006 but may occasionally be called to help his old customers at the dealership he opened across the road in April 2007.
"On top of that, I have a tremendous amount to learn about the General Motors business," Joseph said.
"And I do about Chrysler," Wagner said. "I don't know that much about Chrysler products, other than we competed against each other all of those years. So now, I'm going to learn."
In officially celebrating the transaction, Joseph closed both lots at 4 p.m. Friday to host a barbecue for his employees inside the auto service center at the new Oliver C. Joseph Buick GMC lot. Joseph entered the service garage driving a dark green 1919 Model H Buick Touring Car with his sister-in-law and the dealership's mascot, Caboose the Moose.
The antique car was originally purchased in 1919 by Prosper Christoph, who bought it from Wagner's great-grandfather Gustav "Gus" Wagner in 1919. In 1955, the car was sold to Verlan Heberer and was restored 20 years ago. Joseph said Gus Wagner provided free lube and oil changes as part of the original sale.
Wagner said another car of the exact make and model was bartered to obtain the family's cabin in Michigan in 1925.
Joseph said the car will now be on display at the former Wagner lot.
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526. Reporter Jacqueline Lee contributed information to this story.