Ford takes over Walla Walla dealership

The change is apparently part of the company's corporate restructuring.

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WALLA WALLA -- Ford of Walla Walla owner and president Kirk Williams is leaving the dealership in the fallout of the automaker's corporate restructuring.

After nearly a decade at the helm of the downtown dealership, Williams said this morning he plans to "pursue other opportunities."

A Ford Motor Co. representative was expected to begin operation of the local dealership today and will remain there until a permanent operator can be found, according to the announcement.

The changeover, announced to the business's 30 employees this morning, is not expected to affect jobs.

Few details were available this morning, including what will happen with plans to relocate the business after the lease on the property expires next summer.

An emotional Williams did not expound further on the decision. However, the change at the operation is apparently connected to Ford's corporate strategy to eliminate debt, including that created through its investment partnerships.

According to this morning's release, Ford has been the major investment partner with Williams in the operation. But the Dearborn, Mich.,-based company is divesting such partnerships in an effort to steer itself toward economic recovery.

Ford has issued an offer for partners to buy out the corporation's interest. Today's announcement said the offer comes with "certain financial stipulations Williams was unable to execute."

Part of Ford of Walla Walla's agreement with Ford Motor Co. was to build a new facility, the release explained. Though financing was "virtually in place two years ago," the economic downturn has prompted lenders to reconsider.

Williams had planned to build a new lot. At one point, he had even placed a sign announcing intentions to build in College Place, off State Route 125 across from Wal-Mart.

His lease downtown, where he operates on three corners at Colville and Rose streets, reportedly runs through July 1. The property, owned by John and Elaine Brownell and ownership partners, has been for sale. The three parcels, as well as a fourth on Rose Street, carry a combined asking sale price of a little more than $2.5 million.

Elio Agostini, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, said this morning he has been working with potential buyers for the land and continues to work with investors.

Williams' departure as owner follows last year's closure of his Oregon Ford dealership in Pendleton. In February 2008 Williams announced the closure of his Court Avenue dealership, Pendleton Ford Lincoln Mercury. He said at the time the decision was due to downturns in the general automotive economy.

About a third of the 23 employees there were expected to move to the Ford of Walla Walla operation. That closure was one of many throughout the region, though Williams said that decision was not mandated by Ford.

Williams has been part of the auto industry for more than 25 years. He started his career in sales and worked into ownership when he moved to the Walla Walla Valley in 2000 and bought the Ford of Walla Walla dealership.

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