Poulsbo RV – a landmark for more than two decades along Interstate 5 in Kent – could be gone or greatly reduced in size as soon as 2020 to make room for a tunnel under the freeway to connect with State Route 509.
“They’re plowing right through us,” said Will Rogers, Poulsbo RV chief operations officer, about plans by the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
The tunnel will extend Veterans Drive, which ends at Military Road South right where the dealership and corporate offices sit, east to connect with SR 509. The state Legislature in 2015 approved a $16 billion statewide transportation package that included $1.8 billion for SR 509 and SR 167 in Pierce County, known as the Puget Sound Gateway Project.
Construction on the highway extension in Kent isn’t expected to start until 2020 or 2021, and won’t be open for traffic until 2025 or 2026, which includes just phase one on SR 509 between I-5 and 24th Avenue South in SeaTac to provide airport access, according to state DOT officials. The second phase to extend SR 509 to South 188th Street in SeaTac, where the highway currently ends, wouldn’t be completed until about 2030.
“They (state officials) want to pay it for by December and take possession by July 2020,” said Rogers, who along with other staff remains in property negotiations with the state DOT.
The new freeway will provide connections with the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, access to Sea-Tac Airport, and relieve congestion at the I-5 and the Kent Des Moines Road interchange, which will be reconstructed.
Poulsbo RV moved to the site in the late 1990s. Other RV and auto dealers previously occupied the land that sits just east of I-5.
“They have established the property they are taking and made us an offer,” Rogers said about the DOT. “We are negotiating that now.”
Poulsbo RV, which has five dealerships in the region, recently bought the neighboring Franz Bakery Outlet property in an effort to have enough land to keep at least part of the business on the site. Franz will close Feb. 1, according to a company spokeswoman. Kent customers can visit the outlet store in Tukwila, 17500 W. Valley Highway.
The company purchased the bakery to preserve at least that space since it will lose its two large buildings on the north and south ends of the property. Rogers said part of the bakery could be used for office space, but there isn’t enough land around the bakery to park the numerous 40-foot RVs.
“Our desire would be to stay here,” Rogers said. “But I don’t know if we will have the ability to stay.”
Poulsbo employs about 65 in Kent, including approximately 25 in the corporate office.
State and Kent city officials tried to find alternate sites, but none of them suited Poulsbo RV and its need for a lot of space to move and store the RVs.
“There is no similar property to this,” Rogers said. “We have gone up and down I-5 and this is it.”
The company plans to build a new dealership in Sumner in the next year or so to help replace lost space at the Kent site.
Rogers said they just found out last month from the state about the December purchase timeline and plans to take possession of the property in summer 2020.
“We could sit here and be OK for a year or two or they could roll in here in July 2020,” he said.
The Kent dealership sells about 400 units per year with revenue of nearly $50 million per year, Rogers said. That future loss of revenue will impact the city with its rising business and occupation tax.
While Poulsbo RV will receive money from the state for its property, the company won’t receive any funds for loss of business. An appraiser sets the value of the property.
“The value that they are giving us is somewhat negotiable but it doesn’t stop them from moving forward,” Rogers said. “They can take possession and still be in negotiation. … They told us they can’t come in and do this until we are made whole. We’ve got to be somewhere, they can’t just shoo us out. …We didn’t want to buy a new dealership, but we were forced to.”
Rogers remains optimistic there still could be a future for the company at its Kent site.
“Our plan would be to move the corporate team to Sumner, and once the dust clears, if we can make something out of it, bring people back,” he said.
Kent is the top selling of the company’s five dealerships. People in search of an RV like coming to the store.
“It’s priceless for us here,” Rogers said. “Anytime you ask friends where Poulsbo RV is, they know it’s the one along the freeway near the airport.”