VOL. 124 | NO. 44 | Thursday, March 5, 2009
Diamond Int’l To Expand
By Eric Smith
Change is coming to the northeast corner of East Brooks and Millbranch roads in Whitehaven, where Diamond International Trucks Inc. will double its size by taking over the former Chuck Hutton Toyota dealership.
Dick Sweebe, CEO of Memphis-based Diamond Cos. – the holding company for Diamond International – paid $1.8 million for the dealership at 1710 E. Brooks Road, which is next door to one of his 15 truck dealerships. The corporate headquarters of Diamond Cos. is up the street at 1940 E. Brooks Road.
Under an entity called Brooks Realty Partners LP, Sweebe bought the 34,058-square-foot auto dealership and 4.56-acre parcel from Chuck Hutton Co., whose Toyota dealership recently moved to 4601 Hutton Way, near Interstate 55 and East Shelby Drive.
The addition will give Diamond International, which sells International and Isuzu trucks, about 10 acres of land and 60,000 square feet in multiple buildings.
For Sweebe, who started the company 27 years ago, the expansion has been a long time coming. His dealership needed more space and square footage for showroom, service and parts areas, but it had been landlocked until Chuck Hutton left.
“We’re kind of cramped for space down there,” Sweebe said. “We’ve been trying to acquire some property adjacent to us, but there’s not a lot of options. The Huttons were the most logical choice because we felt like someday they would relocate and upgrade their facility to something a little more modern. To be quite honest, that’s something we’re going to do when we get this renovation done. It will be like walking into new facilities.”
Path to completion
The overhaul will target Diamond’s existing building as well as the new property. Sweebe said the total project investment, including the $1.8 million property acquisition, would be “north of $5 million,” although the final figures are still pending. Demolition and site work will begin as soon as next week and construction should be completed by the first of next year.
Brooks Realty Partners financed the Chuck Hutton acquisition with a $1.9 million loan through First Tennessee Bank NA, and the transaction also included an assignment of leases, rents and profits to the lender.
Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. of Memphis is the general contractor for the project, and Renaissance Group of Lakeland is handling the engineering and design for the renovation, which will rejuvenate the entire 10-acre property.
Salvador Feraci, president of the Renaissance Group, said one small building on the Chuck Hutton campus will be razed, and the existing structures on both properties will look nothing like they do now.
“Basically, Mr. Sweebe will have brand-new buildings when we’re finished,” Feraci said. “It’s an extensive renovation project. It will entail every one of the remaining buildings on the site.”
Additionally, Feraci said, site work such as new asphalt and new landscaping will be performed to enhance the overall look of the site and improve the show areas for the dealership’s new and used trucks, giving the property a “new, crisp look.”
“It’s going to change the look along Brooks Road substantially,” Feraci said.
Brett Grinder, Grinder, Taber & Grinder’s project manager for the renovation, touted Sweebe’s quick decision to buy the land and approve construction plans, preventing the lot and the building from sitting empty.
“It’s a really good repositioning of that property,” Grinder said. “There’s a lot of interest in that whole area. Mr. Sweebe and his management team keep up with the other businesses around them, and there’s a lot of reinvestment that I think is going to happen in this area. This is the biggest reinvestment that’s going to happen quickly.”
Improving the area
Reinvesting in the Brooks Road corridor is important to Sweebe, who serves on the board of the Memphis Airport Area Development Corp., an organization charged with removing blight along neighborhoods near the airport.
“We’re happy to contribute to making this area look a little bit better,” he said.
These physical changes aren’t the only ones Diamond International has undergone lately. The company was formerly known as Mid-America International Trucks Inc. before a 2008 rebranding campaign aligned all its locations under one name and look.
Diamond International has 15 dealerships in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. With the company’s largest locations currently in Little Rock, Lowell, Ark., and Kansas City, Mo., Sweebe said this expansion and renovation was needed to bolster the company’s home branch.
“All of those are much larger than the Memphis operation, so we’re just kind of bringing it up to being equal to those,” he said.
In addition to selling new and used trucks, Diamond Cos. operates a leasing entity called Diamond Idealease and also is a certified engine dealer and for brands such as Cummins and Caterpillar (CAT).
Sweebe said Memphis has been a good home for the company, for many of the same reasons that companies such as FedEx and other transportation carriers and servicers have flourished here for years. This upgrade and addition further entrenches Diamond Cos. in its hometown.
“(Memphis) is a transportation hub, and that’s why as you drive up and down Brooks Road, you see a lot of trucking companies that are also based here – for those same reasons that we’re here,” Sweebe said.
“Of course, wherever the trucking companies are, we’re going to tend to follow because those are the people we service and support.”