The Killeen City Council may have missed an opportunity to bring around 50 jobs and possibly $40 million in revenue per year to Killeen in a building along Interstate 14 that has been mostly vacant for more than three years.

“What they would like to do is do RV sales, RV service and they also have a retail component and so that fits really nicely in this 52,000-square foot building. They’re going to cut it up and use every aspect of that as well as the parking lot,” Jay Moore said in his pitch to the Killeen City Council on Dec. 8.

Moore, who works for Minnesota-based Oppidan Inc., was at the council meeting to explain a zoning request on behalf of Camping World, a nationwide RV dealer that wants to open a new dealership with retail component in Killeen’s Gander Mountain building, which closed in March 2017, two years after it was built.

Gander Mountain was big news in Killeen when it opened to fanfare in 2015, and perhaps bigger news two years later when it closed. The still-new building has been used since as a seasonal Halloween costume store and, more recently, a temporary furniture store, but Killeen residents and business experts alike have pondered what more the location, along a prime time business corridor, could become.

At the Dec. 8 council meeting, Moore said the Gander Mountain building and parking lot, 701 E. Central Texas Expressway, could become a new RV dealer owned by Camping World; however, it would take a rezoning of the property from a designation of B-3, or local business district, to B-4, or business district, which allows for auto sales, repair work and other uses.

Moore said the potential business could bring over 50 jobs to Killeen and possibly $40 million or more in revenue a year.

The business would include RV sales outside, a full retail store inside the former Gander Mountain building and a full service department for the RVs.

Moore added that the current owners of the property and building are in Florida and paid $10 million for it.

“This building was developed in 2015 ... it’s vacant now, it was sold to an investment firm out of Florida in excess of $10 million. That building is vacant,” he told the council. “It’s been a tough project for the new owner; it’s sitting there vacant, and they’ve tried to re-tenant it with other retail tenants. Because it’s a big box, it’s tough to chop up into 10,000, 20,000, 15,000 square feet. We’re coming before you tonight with, we think, the perfect solution to fill this building.”

In a 4-2 vote at the same meeting, the Killeen council turned down the rezoning request, potentially decapitating the project before it got off the ground.

Was a golden opportunity missed? Is the project dead?

The answers are not clear.

The Herald tried to call Moore and Camping World last week but neither he nor the company returned phone calls or emails last week.

Council members

Councilmembers Mellisa Brown and Steve Harris voted in favor of the rezoning. But why did the other council members vote against it?

Although he thinks a Camping World outlet would be a great business, Councilmember Rick Williams said last week he stands by his vote, saying he is concerned about traffic in the area.

“It is a very tight location from a traffic perspective,” Williams said, with respect to the type of vehicles that would be entering and leaving the location. “I don’t know that that is the right location for it.”

Also voting against the rezoning were Council Members Shirley Fleming, Debbie Nash-King and Ken Wilkerson. Councilman Jim Kilpatrick’s vote on the matter was not counted on the issue due to a technical difficulty. He was attending the meeting remotely.

The Herald sent questions to those four on why they voted against the rezoning and for their thoughts on Camping World coming to Killeen. Fleming said she had no comment on the issue, and the others did not reply.

City of Killeen Planning and Development Services Director Tony McIlwain recommended the zoning change to the council at the meeting, with the Planning and Zoning Commission having voted to recommend the change by a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Ploeckelmann, Gukeisen and Hodges in opposition.

The two council members who voted in favor of the rezoning did talk more about it in response to Herald questions.

Brown expressed concerns about the long-term implications of keeping the property as B-4. She wanted to keep the idea of rezoning back to B-3 as an option.

“Even though I have hesitations about the permanent rezoning of the property, I think that Camping World would be a good business at that location,” Brown said by email following the meeting. “After learning that the buyer was under contract and needed to close before January or we could possibly lose the store altogether, I felt like the B4 zoning was worth the risk.”

Brown cited how Camping World planned on putting an additional $12 million into the property itself and anticipated sales would have brought valuable and needed money to Killeen.

“I did a lot of research on the company and their revenue increased by 2.1% (to almost $5 billion nationally from 120 stores in 36 states),” Brown said. “This is during a restructuring phase and is a promising sign for future success.”

Like Brown, Harris had no issues with the type of business, but did mention his concern about traffic in the area.

“I have no objections at all with this type of business coming in to our city as it would be one of the most diverse that we have,” he said. “The concern about traffic was of an average concern to me as costumers would drive in and shop at the store for more than just RV’s. I don’t believe that RV traffic would be a big problem seeing that it is unlikely that a caravan of RV’s would be leaving or, entering the parking lot all at once, except when placing them on the lot.”

Mayor’s response

Although he did not take part in the vote, Mayor Jose Segarra said on Thursday by telephone that he hopes the vote is returned to the council, with the option of adopting a conditional-use permit on the property for Camping World. This means the property would be rezoned for Camping World only, and though they would own the property, if they ever sell or lease it to another business, it would return to B3 status.

“I would love to have Camping World here,” Segarra said, adding that he believes this region is a good market for a business such as this. “It looks like they have done their market research and have calculated that Killeen would be good for business.”

Camping World

Since Gander Mountain went bankrupt, Camping World has been gobbling up many of the old Gander Mountain locations, and turning them into Gander RV locations, a smaller-scale RV dealer that also sells camping equipment.

An article on businesswire.com from 2018 detailed some of the dealings by Camping World with former Gander Mountain locations.

“The first Gander RV location opened in late summer of 2018 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, inside a revamped Gander Outdoors store. Since the opening in Kenosha, the Company has opened additional Gander RV locations in Ocala, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Huber Heights, Ohio; Jackson, Tennessee; Amarillo, Texas; Spring, Texas; Tyler, Texas; Roanoke, Virginia; DeForest, Wisconsin; Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Rothschild, Wisconsin.

Additional Gander RV locations opening soon include: Anniston, Alabama; Wichita, Kansas; Baxter, Minnesota; Hermantown, Minnesota; Forest Lake, Minnesota; Cicero, New York; Breaux Bridge (Lafayette), Louisiana; Springfield, Illinois; Marion, Illionois; Coldwater, Michigan; and Statesville, North Carolina,” the article said.

“Our continued expansion through the opening of Gander RV Sales locations, opportunistic and strategic acquisitions and new store development, reinforces our focus on expanding our national footprint and providing consumers with the ultimate assortment of RV and outdoor related products and services,” said Brent Moody, President of Camping World Holdings, in the article.

Back in Killeen

Brown noted that while the company does do RV sales and upgrades, its revenue from retail sales of camping goods and RV products was the higher revenue source.

“I think it would have been an option for people to purchase camping supplies, interior upgrades for their RVs, or a new or used RV, she said. “The sales tax revenue from RV sales would have helped us with highway and state road repairs and the other merchandise would have provided a large increase in sales tax revenue for the City. The improvement to the property would have brought additional property tax revenue since they weren’t asking for any incentives that I’m aware of.”

Brown stressed that her concerns stem not from the type of business seeking to relocate there.

“My primary concern was not the business,” she said. “I believe that Camping World would have been a good addition and a good community neighbor. They have a program that gives back to the communities and less fortunate where they have locations. My hesitation was with a permanent change that would allow for businesses like car dealerships or full-service garages if they were to close that location. Because the zoning would already be there, the City wouldn’t be able to have any say in whether or not a business could open there, even if it didn’t fit in with the vision for that area.

“I don’t believe that there would be a constant stream of RVs driving in and out of the location, but the current entrance to the parking lot is not ideal for these vehicles to turn in and out of.”

Finally, Brown cited a concern about privacy for the homes behind the location and a potential drop in property values.

“I fully understand that neighbors would be worried about their privacy and I had asked about requesting an 8-foot privacy fence,” she said. “Since it was not a conditional use or planned development request, the City can not make it a requirement. I also understand the worries about property valuations, but I feel like the addition of a permanent occupant would help maintain or improve valuations. I believe having a vacant building would be more likely to bring property values down.

“I sincerely hope that Camping World is able to extend their contract and closing date with the seller and that they return to the City. I think that the City Council will feel more comfortable with the project if they return with a request for a conditional-use permit that would allow them to conduct their business without changing the zoning.”

Harris cited how the zoning issue made this a difficult call.

“In the end, though, I voted in favor of Camping World and the zone change,” he said by email following the meeting. “I will not be shy and hide my hopes of, if the business did not succeed, the owner requesting to rezone the property back to B-3 before they decided to lease or sell it. I perceived the project to be what it was.”

“My primary reason for voting for it was the fact of how long the building has been vacant and thinking of how much longer it would stay vacant. We are a city that is looking for good businesses and ones with diversity in services. I believe this fit that description. With this in mind, it would’ve literally been a crossing of my fingers and hope they would do well.”

254-501-7464 | hking@kdhnews.com

(5) comments

don76550

Another act of incompetence from our clueless city counsel. More of them need replaced

Noe Rodriguez

An empty lot is loss of money coming in. The zoning could be change, there was no problem. From what I read was the traffic of going out. Can't the new business require a new exit or entrance built? Every time I drive by there I see that even when other businesses are there, I dont stop because of its entrance. If company is making all the changes and additions, I say welcome.

Terrells001

A proposal was brought forth to the City zoning board and after consideration recommended approval.

City council ignores recommendation and votes no due to mainly Zoning concerns????

My first thought is who did the research to back up the claims as to why this business should not be there? Why not put a temporary zoning clause in the initial agreement?

Traffic, home value decline, resident privacy, zoning issues-the reasons brought forth have no data to back up the claims. Just emotional concerns that may or may not be real.

Opportunity lost.

Truthprevails

So a company wants to buy an empty building and bring a $40 million a year sales tax generating business in and long term employ 40-50. They asked for ZERO incentives and our esteemed council votes H-LL NO. Yet they the following week actually are considering giving a 75 YEAR tax deal to an apartment complex that will generate ZERO INCOME while costing more for city services, schools, police/fire for all other property owners in Killeen.

Bravo Council you have just established your selves as IDIOTS. Bravo well done.

stuckinbellcounty

I agree with the above!!

When I seen the headline.. I was however hoping it was a Bass Pro Shop...

Again.. bravo to our great city council.. I say you all should move into the apartment complex together.

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