Lynnway Auto Auction plans move to Billerica

January 4, 2011
By Sean Leonard/The Daily Item

Lynnway Auto Auction, the largest independent dealer consignment auto auction in New England that employs more than 400 on weekly auction days, plans to move to Billerica by the end of June.

"We love Lynn and have had a big business here for years. We're sorry to be leaving," said Bob Brest, a partner in Lynnway Auto Auction, "but the business has expanded so much we just need the extra room to park the cars. We tried to work something out and find more space here, but we weren't able to do that."

Brest noted the company had hoped to strike a deal with the city to expand to a municipal lot on Harding Street that borders the business, but with the recent re-location of the Lynnway power corridor and push to market the city's waterfront for new development, he said "my impression is (the city) doesn't want us any longer. They're talking about building condominiums here or something."

Lynnway Auto Auction is shown Monday.
Item photo / Reba Saldanha

Brest said he and his business partners, Jim Lamb, president of the company, and George Russo, vice president, determined there was no other option but to move from the 10-acre site at 732R Lynnway, where the company has been for 12 years.

"We bring more than 800 people here on auction days and they're not just buying cars, they're buying lunch here and going into the stores," said Brest, a former Swampscott resident who for decades owned Buick and Chevrolet dealerships on the Lynnway.

"We really do care about this city. We're not mad, just sad about having to move."

Ken Carpi, who owns the Lynnway Auto Auction property, was not available for comment Monday. Brest, however, spoke highly of the company's landlord.

"Mr. Carpi has been great to us and we appreciate everything he's done," he said.

In either May or June, Brest said, the business will move to a 40-acre site at 400 Charter Way, Billerica, which includes a 14,000-square-foot industrial building with eight docks and drive-in door. Banker & Tradesman reported Dec. 29 that Lynnway Auto Auction paid $3.6 million for the building and property in Billerica.

"We're moving to Billerica but we'll still be Lynnway Auto Auction," Brest said, largely because of the reputation and name recognition the company has built. "The reason we've grown so much is we're good at what we do. Jimmy and George have been in the auction business for more than 25 years and with my experience, we know a lot of (car) buyers and a lot of sellers and they come to us from all over New England. Last year we sold over 40,000 cars in the City of Lynn."

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, commenting on Lynnway Auto Auction's pending move, said Monday, "My understanding is that the deal in Billerica doesn't close until June. If they want to talk to us to explore alternative locations (in Lynn) to meet their needs, my door is always open."

Kennedy added, "As far as the auction leaving the Lynnway, that's right in the area of the power lines relocation last April. It's sad to see a longtime business leave the city, but sooner or later that land would be put to another use anyway, in accordance with the Master Waterfront Plan."

James Cowdell, executive director of the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, said it's bittersweet that the company is moving from Lynn.

"There's a lot of jobs down there so from that perspective, we lose jobs and that's a bad thing," Cowdell said. "But (an auto auction) is clearly not the future of that land. We have momentum with the power lines that have just been moved and a large piece of land that we think will have a much better use."

City Council President Timothy Phelan agrees that the business moving out of Lynn is "good news, bad news."

"Most of those are part-time jobs, but any time a company brings the amount of people into the city as Lynnway Auto Auction, the city will be losing that disposable income and that's not good," especially while the economy is depressed, Phelan said. "Long range though, this may be a positive thing because we're trying to develop the waterfront and this is not the type of business that fits with that."

Since the property is privately owned, Phelan said, the city has no say, beyond zoning, in its specific reuse, but he said "perhaps the owner of this property sees this as an opportunity and has an idea or vision to now take advantage of the fact the power lines have been moved.

"In the past we would roll out the red carpet for any type of company that wanted to come to the Lynnway. But that's not the case now ... We can't look in terms of one-year increments and two-year increments, but look at the long-range forecast."

Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano, whose ward includes the Lynnway, said, "It's been a rumor they might move up until now. If they need to expand that's understandable. I'm sure the Lynn workers at the Auto Auction will be able to keep their jobs at the new location. I wouldn't say this is fortunate, but it's good in a way because I'm sure there will be another use for that spot that is consistent with the waterfront plan."

Capano said he has had a good working relationship with Lynnway Auto Auction and with Carpi, the property owner.

"He (Carpi) is not going to leave that property vacant," he said.

Phelan said that ideally, the private property owners affected by the power lines relocation, including Carpi, will work closely with city officials on planning waterfront redevelopment.

That is a point the mayor also emphasized.

"It's important to choose the right projects for the right locations and (the private property owners on the Lynnway) know my office and the Office of Economic Development are here to meet with them and help."

Kennedy added, "There has to be deliberate and careful expansion of our economic base, with commercial and residential development. And we are seeing new construction, with the VNA building, the expansion of the Community Health Center and (the pending redevelopment of) 14 Central Ave. There is momentum and we want that to carry over to the waterfront."

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