MOTOR ROW — There's been much hand-wringing about the future of a Near South Side area that once housed the country's earliest automobiles.
Fox Motors, a collective of high-end dealerships in Michigan, thinks it has the answer: return the area to its earliest purpose. On Friday, it opens the city's first full-line Ford dealership in an historic building that once housed the earliest vehicles, at 2401 S. Michigan Ave.
"It's on the old 'Motor Row' street, so it has historic significance with the car business, and it's in really good shape — a lot of historical flooring and brick in the building," said Diane Maher, chief operating officer and senior vice president of Fox Motors. "We're trying to keep the character of it, and just enhance it. It's really cute, a really nice place."
The stretch of early dealerships on South Michigan Avenue earned landmark status from the city in 2000, a nod to its peak in the early 20th century when it housed dealerships including Ford, Buick, Fiat and Cadillac, selling as many as 116 different makes of automobiles.
The city has big plans for the Motor Row area, hoping to transform it into an entertainment district. With its location near McCormick Place, and its auto and blues roots, it's seen as a potential hot spot for growth.
"The facility is hearkened back to the early days of the auto industry, that's for sure," said Eric Cin, Ford’s Chicago regional sales manager. "It's a really unique space, a great place for us to re-kick off our business here in Chicago."
Fox Motors only plans to be at the former home of Joyce Motors for a few years, while it shops for larger facilities on the North Side. But it's still invested in customizing the space, with "some renovations, upgrading, adding bathrooms, beautifying the place a little bit," Maher said.
Cin said Ford hopes to hire managers and employees from the surrounding community.