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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Driving Force

In the spring of 2014 change was preparing to happen in the Downtown Evansville landscape. Plans to bring a four-year medical school to the area were well underway and it was time to find the perfect place to start construction.

It was during this period Mike O’Daniel, president and owner of D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln, formerly located at Fifth and Walnut streets, received a call from Mayor Lloyd Winnecke: What would it take for Mike to sell his lot to be demolished and make way for the Multi-Institutional Academic Health Science Education and Research Facility, Winnecke asked.

“I told him what I thought I needed for the facility. Through whatever series of behind the scene things, they came up with the idea that our facility Downtown was a reasonable price and that’s where they should locate the school,” he says.

It had not been the first time Mike had been approached about his location being used for Downtown economic development. In 2009, when talks of a Downtown arena started in Evansville, the city zeroed in on the local dealership as a prime spot for the new Ford Center. However, the plans fell through, says Mike.

“We couldn’t come to an agreement and the location wasn’t right anymore,” he says.

Seven years later, the conditions for an agreement between the city and D-Patrick proved more favorable. While the move meant big things for the city, it also meant D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln needed a new home and quickly.

Downtown Staple

D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln — which began as O’Daniel-Ranes Oldsmobile in 1934 — always has had a place in the Downtown business scene and the O’Daniel family always has had a hand in the dealership.

Joseph “Joe” E. O’Daniel partnered with George Ranes Sr. to launch O’Daniel-Ranes Oldsmobile in the 30s. As their success grew, Mike’s father D. Patrick O’Daniel decided to learn the ropes of car dealing as well, joining the family-owned Key Ford dealership, across the street from O’Daniel-Ranes, in 1964.

D. Patrick would go on to purchase his own dealership in 1971, located on Green River Road, selling and servicing Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. As is the story with many family-owned businesses, D. Patrick would purchase Key Ford Honda in the late 70s and O’Daniel-Ranes Oldsmobile Nissan in the 80s. All would be renamed as D-Patrick dealerships.

As the company grew more and showrooms expanded, D. Patrick’s son Mike would find his way onto the team in 1987; his son-in-law Ray Farabaugh followed in 1989. In 1998, Mike and Farabaugh would purchase D-Patrick Inc. together. Today, Mike heads up the Ford/Lincoln lot and Farabaugh handles the European model and Nissan dealerships on Green River Road.

When talks about locating the Ford Center at the Downtown lot fell through in 2009, Mike and his crew worked to merge the then Lincoln/Mercury dealership with the Ford location, launching a $2 million renovation of the Downtown showroom.

Under the leadership of O’Daniel and Farabaugh, D-Patrick, Inc. has continued to expand and grow throughout the Tri-State. Along with Ford/Lincoln, O’Daniel and Farabaugh have dealerships offering Audi, BMW, and Porsche, while continuing to offer Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Volkswagen lines. In 2014, the Ford dealership in Boonville, Indiana, also was added to the ranks. The company owns used car and exclusive pre-owned dealerships as well.

Switching Gears

After coming to an agreement with the city on the move from Downtown, Mike and his staff found themselves needing a new location. Not only was a new property sought, but a new facility was to be designed and built, and the offices and inventory moved in time for the scheduled demolition of the Downtown lot.

“Everything with this was very seat-of-your-pants,” says Mike with a laugh. “It was as well thought out and planned as it could have been.”

Originally, he had settled on building a new dealership on the far North Side of Evansville along U.S. Highway 41. However, a conversation between Mike and F.C. Tucker Emge Real Estate Agent Ken Newcomb Jr. led to a better opportunity.

After hearing of the plans to move D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln to the northern part of the city, Newcomb Jr. asked Mike what spot in the city the D-Patrick owner would truly like to place his new building.

“I told him at the intersection of U.S. Highway 41 and the Lloyd Expressway and he said ‘Let me go to work on that.’ He found a way to put together the property (at Walnut Street and U.S. Highway 41), which was an extremely complicated thing to do,” says Mike. “Really it was a magic act, if you ask me.”

The property had its issues, however. Before D-Patrick expressed interest in the area, the city had begun working with J-Bell Properties who owned the majority of the distressed homes along the Walnut Street corridor, says Kelley Coures, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development. The Building Commission was working to submit the properties into the city’s blight elimination program. The entire Walnut corridor from U.S. Highway 41 to Downtown was identified in a HUD study as early as 1982 as being in severe decline. The Walnut Center development came from the study in the mid-1980s. With D-Patrick wanting the location, Coures says talks simply switched from J-Bell Properties to D-Patrick, which the state allowed.

“The homes in there were distressed properties. There were 18 tenant households in that area. The city used $20,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help relocate people who were being displaced from the neighborhood and then D-Patrick, after all was said and done, reimbursed the city that $20,000,” says Coures. “So essentially D-Patrick also helped pay for the relocation of people from that area so they could find better housing.”

Once the residents relocated and the homes were torn down, Mike says the property had to be remediated — correctly taking out cisterns and basements to avoid sinkholes on the properties.

“It was an extremely expensive piece of property to get ready to even build anything on,” adds Mike. “Then we had to get the thing built because we were on a time crunch.” 

Construction bids were awarded to Key Construction, Alva Electric, Ritzert Mechanical Co., and K&K Excavating, who all did a fantastic job and understood the urgency of the project, says Mike. During the build, part of the new parking lot was paved and a temporary building was set up so members of the sales staff could work from the new location during the winter.

“It was an amazing feat; really they built this thing in nine months, which is pretty unbelievable,” adds Mike.

Once the building was complete, the arduous task of moving a well-established car dealership to a new location began.

“The logistics of the move were ridiculous,” says Mike. “It’s just like one of those things; you can’t imagine how it’s all really going to work out, but you put your nose to the grindstone and it works.”

“It was difficult,” agrees Peter O’Daniel, Mike’s son and sales manager at the dealership. “You don’t realize how much stuff you have to move until you actually go through it.”

Peter and the staff sorted through the years of history stored in the building; some items dated back to the 1970s. It was a task that brought back memories, says Peter. An auction was held earlier this year to sell a majority of the items no longer needed or wanted; the rest was moved to the new building. Then came the cars.

“We had what we called our Ford Big Move Blowout Sale,” says Peter. “We had great incentives to try to get the vehicles off the lot. The sale continues now.”

What was not sold was moved to the new lot. Peter adds Ford Motor Company was so excited about the new property, they provided D-Patrick with a lot of new inventory as well.

“The manufacturer is happy and we’re happy,” he adds. “I think we were kind of hidden in the old location; this is a lot more visible. And it’s exciting to be a part of something that’s new in the city.”

Home Sweet Home

The new D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln dealership location at 1100 E. Walnut St. was completed and opened for business in March. The showroom and office space totals 41,000 square feet on the first floor and an additional 5,150 square feet on its second level. It gives an “ultra-modern” feel with its 8,000-square-foot showroom, 18-foot ceilings, and full-height glass walls.

“Mike was present through the entire design process,” says J.T. Kinkel of Jack R. Kinkel and Son Architects, PC, lead designer of the project. “We went through lots of evolutions all the way up to the end.”

Kinkel and his firm have worked with D-Patrick and the O’Daniel family many times over the last 30 years. He says Mike wanted “a seamless sales and service experience for the customer, which also translates into a highly-productive building for his employees.”

“We knew that location was going to have a lot of challenges, but would be very rewarding if it could all be worked out,” says Kinkel. “It’ll probably forever change the Walnut Street area.”

At the back of the showroom sits a 29 service-bay shop, a part of the 22,500-square-foot parts and service area of the dealership. The building incorporates LED lighting throughout to minimize energy use. The dealership’s lot lighting also is unique, says Kinkel.

“The site lighting to me is one of the most interesting parts. It raises and lowers its light level throughout the night to save energy,” he says. “We came up with a system that dims through the evening, based on retail hours and dusk and dawn, to reduce the cost.”

Other unique aspects of the building Kinkel notes are the amount of glass used in the structure, the shop side of the building constructed with brick, and the location of the showroom on the lot.

“The building is in the far back corner (of the lot),” says Kinkel. “I think that’s a unique approach for a car dealership, to put their building so far back and basically wrap it with cars.”

“That neighborhood is much safer today,” adds Coures. “I think it’s a real boom to have a major Ford dealership at one of the gateways to Downtown.
“It’s better lit, and that dealership being large like that creates jobs,” he says. “It’s an economic developing tool to have that business there at that location.”

Though the process provided interesting and challenging moments to all involved, Mike believes “all’s well that ends well.” The new dealership has given way to an important economic development Downtown and helped give a facelift to the Walnut Street corridor as well as benefiting the D-Patrick company.

“It’s really been nuts,” says Mike, “but we’re in now and we’re pretty happy.” 

For more information about D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln, call 812-428-7800 or visit dpatrickford.com.

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