With a land transaction last month in Rocky Point, an auto auction company is moving closer to growing its Wilmington-area footprint.
Manheim Auto Auctions plans to expand onto about 16 acres near the intersection of Interstate 40 and Highway 210. That land is part of a more than 50-acre Pender County site that was purchased last month for $1.25 million, according to property records.
Manheim, which currently occupies a 3-acre site off Market Street near Kings Grant, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Automotive. The expansion will allow the company to increase its capacity and serve growing markets up and down the Carolina coast, said Stephen Twelkemeier, general manager of Manheim’s Wilmington location.
The purchase of the Rocky Point site is the culmination of a multi-year search, said Mike Musselwhite, a commercial broker with Sun Coast Partners. Musselwhite represented Manheim throughout the search process, which began more than four years ago and was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company was looking for a site with a large area of open space to park cars along with accessibility from major highways, according to Twelkemeier.
“The biggest draw for that (Rocky Point) piece of property was its proximity to the interstate, which is always preferable for us because a lot of our vehicles are delivered on car haulers,” he said.
As a wholesale auction, the business is not open to the public. Instead, it sells cars from dealer to dealer, Twelkemeier said. Manheim currently houses anywhere from 150 to 350 vehicles on its 3-acre Market Street site. The new site will allow the company to significantly expand the number of cars it can store and auction off.
“It probably triples our capacity from where it's currently at,” Twelkemeier said. “It really opens the door for us to be able to grow the business. Right now, it's pretty hard to grow much past where we're at just simply because of space.”
Manheim is working with RealtyLink, a real estate development company based in Greenville, S.C., to design, permit and build its auto auction facility. Using a “lease to build” model, RealtyLink will build the facility to Manheim’s specifications and then lease it back to the auto auction company. Construction will include a building that will house an auction ring along with areas for car detailing and making repairs. Other parts of the site will be paved or covered in gravel to form parking lots, Twelkemeier said.
RealtyLink is currently working through the permitting process, but Twelkemeier said the company aims to break ground on the site in the next month. He said he hopes to open the auction facility before the end of 2024.
The site was sold by Rocky Point Interchange, LLC, which purchased the land in 2005, according to property records. M. Shameer Lookman serves as a registered agent for the limited liability company, according to N.C. Secretary of State records.
The former owners purchased the land because they saw the potential for growth in Rocky Point, said Hansen Matthews, a partner at Maus, Warwick, Matthews & Co. Matthews represented the sellers in the transaction.
“Rocky Point is the closest interchange to New Hanover County and it’s an area that is destined to have a large population growth,” Matthews said. “They wanted to get ahead of it.”
The owners opted to put more than 50 acres of their roughly 70-acre tract on the market as they watched the Wilmington trade area grow along Interstate 40, Matthews said. The investors retain ownership of just over 12 acres that front onto Highway 117.
The owners hope to sell that land as the area continues to develop.
“Two or three years from now, when that area has grown up a little bit more,” Matthews said, “they’ll bring it back to market.”
Last December, the Pender County Board of Commissioners approved rezoning more than 50 acres of the site from rural agriculture to a general industrial district. The 12 acres of frontage were also rezoned from rural agricultural to a general business district.