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Lithia to buy Terminal 1 along Willamette

Lithia Motors has been in an expansion mode, adding dozens of auto dealerships in recent years.

Now, the Medford-based auto retailer may soon own property tied to a different transportation mode, a maritime terminal.

Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services announced Friday it has accepted Lithia Real Estate Inc.'s bid for the 14-acre Terminal 1 property along the Willamette River on Northwest Front Avenue.

In a second round of bidding, Lithia offered $12.5 million, or $1.375 million more than the next highest bid for Terminal 1, a large paved lot with a 96,000-square-foot warehouse and a 3.6 acre dock. Lithia has 120 days to conduct due diligence, followed by a 30-day closing before the sale can become final.

What happens between now and the middle of April will be shaped by discussions between the auto dealer and the city.

"We don’t fully know the end game for the Terminal 1 property," Lithia Chief Marketing Officer Tom Dobry said. "We’re only at the letter-of-intent stage right now. We look forward to conducting our due diligence and working with the city of Portland to develop a plan that serves our needs and their desires to develop that part of downtown Portland. There’s lots of work to do, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to explore this property’s potential with the city and the community."

A report in the Portland Tribune last month said Lithia's proposal included moving the Portlandia statue from the Portland Building to the terminal, "welcoming seafarers and the world to our beautiful city."

"As the second-largest (hammered) copper sculpture in the United States and the symbol of the city, Portlandia could finally find a place to project both her place and the confidence of the community," Lithia wrote in the bid.

In an earlier round of bids submitted in November, Lithia offered $10 million for the property, as did several other prospective buyers. Tandem Development Corp., a Portland development firm and the previous highest bidder, had offered $10.5 million.

In its initial offer, Lithia was looking to consolidate Portland operations.

"We have eight stores in the immediate Portland area," Dobry said. "As we grow, we anticipate needing more space and the opportunity to consolidate operations that support those stores."

He said such an acquisition has no relationship or impact on the Medford headquarters.

The city of Portland purchased Terminal 1 for $6.3 million in 2004 to use as a staging area for a $1 billion sewer overflow project that is now complete.

"I am pleased that Terminal 1 will be home to an Oregon-based company," Portland Commissioner Nick Fish said in a statement. "This sale aligns with our commitment to maintaining Terminal 1 as prime industrial land and to the city's economic development strategy for the next 20 years."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Photo from city of Portland