By Dave DeWitte
CORALVILLE—Designing a new motorcycle dealership that captures the essence of the University of Iowa’s most famous sports facility could pay off for McGrath Hawkeye Harley-Davidson in Coralville, although it has also taken the dealership down a delicate design path.
Dealership President Mike McGrath was looking to create a compelling destination for riders after the acquisition of a Coralville-based Harley-Davidson dealership by his family, which also owns McGrath Automotive Group and McGrath Powersports, in April 2013.
The dealership’s location at 2812 Commerce Drive in Coralville lacked nothing in visibility and access, with about 60,000 vehicles driving past each day on Interstate 80, Mr. McGrath said, but it was landlocked, without much room to grow.
The McGrath family acquired a 4.5-acre site west of Theisen’s on WestCor Drive in Coralville with high visibility from I-80, and set out to design a destination store that would bring in even more riders.
One opportunity that Mr. McGrath could see to appeal to riders was through creative store design. Harley-Davidson USA’s dealership design process and standards encourages dealers to take fun and creative approaches, Mr. McGrath noted.
With a location only minutes from the University of Iowa’s iconic Kinnick Stadium, where attendance averages over 70,000 per game, he quickly found the inspiration he was seeking. But that did not mean that the dealership could simply borrow design elements from Kinnick and assume that everybody would be okay with it.
The dealership worked with an architecture firm that specializes in Harley-Davidson’s branding and design standards and Brost Architects and Planners of Cedar Rapids, with which the McGrath family had worked on past projects, to come up with a design that would satisfy Harley-Davidson, the University of Iowa and local planning authorities.
Architect David Brost picked up on a few key design elements from Kinnick Stadium that surprisingly seem to capture its essence. The final design includes a facade in the shape of a stadium scoreboard bearing a Harley-Davidson logo, and door and window archways reminiscent of entrances to the stadium.
The dealership’s plans were discussed with licensing officials at the University of Iowa a few months before the presentation of the dealership design in June.
The concept of building a retail facility that resembled the UI’s arguably second-most famous building (behind the Old Capitol) was not one that the university took lightly.
UI Licensing Director Dale Arens said the dealership softened up some of the stadium influences in the design and also agreed that any promotional efforts that could suggest a relationship between the dealership and the university would be negotiated with the UI beforehand.
“We’re comfortable with where we’re at,” said Mr. Arens, adding that the reputation and standing of McGrath’s automotive business, along with the degree of separation between the UI and the project’s design and branding, provided some of that comfort with the arrangement.
“It’s not like they’re calling it Kinnick West McGrath Hawkeye Harley-Davidson,” joked Mr. Arens.
Mr. McGrath speaks carefully about the design, saying, “We’re honoring the great history and tradition of the University of Iowa, as well as Harley-Davidson … It’s purpose-built as a Harley store.”
Inside the store
At 27,700 square feet, the new facility will be almost triple the size of the current store, Mr. McGrath said. The precast concrete exterior will have a brick texture in a limestone color.
Feedback on the design has been overwhelmingly positive, Mr. McGrath said, and Harley riders are excited about the amenities the new location will provide them.
Key features will include a big outdoor patio area with a performance stage, concession stand and fire pit for hosting customer gatherings called “Friday Night Bikes,” which are held several times each year. More special events will be added in the future.
Inside the dealership will be a second-floor club room overlooking the showroom floor that will serve as meeting space for the local Harley Owners Group.
The showroom’s features will include a design center that will allow riders to visualize different motorcycles with different options, colors and design features.
The dealership’s service center will also have some advanced technology, including a dynamometer that will support the ability of technicians to do performance modifications.
Despite the larger dealership size, Mr. McGrath said the number of motorcycles on the showroom floor won’t increase, and could in fact decline. Motorcycles will be better displayed and more accessible, however. A second floor storage area will hold motorcycles that aren’t on display.
Merit Construction will be the general contractor and Modern Companies the mechanical contractor for the project, which is tentatively scheduled for completion in early June 2015. The current dealership location on Commerce Drive has been placed on the market for sale.
Harley-Davidson dealerships have become architectural landmarks in some communities. A six-story motorcycle display tower at a Portsmouth, Va., Harley dealership is so prominent that it’s a landmark often cited on radio traffic reports. The design features of a dealership in Paducah, Ky., capture the essence of an early steamboat.
The new McGrath Hawkeye Harley-Davidson dealership will incorporate architectural features from some other prominent local landmarks in addition to the stadium, according to Mr. McGrath, however he isn’t giving those away just yet.
Mr. Brost, the architect, feels the new design will score a touchdown with riders, whether they are Hawkeye fans or not.
“Mike (McGrath) had a great vision to draw people in,” he said.