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Updated: September 8, 2020 Town Profile: Canton

Mitchell Auto Group expansion leads construction uptick in Canton

Photo | Contributed Mitchell Auto Group is seeking approval to move its Canton Subaru dealership into a larger facility the company wants to build on Albany Turnpike.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led some businesses to rethink expansion plans but in Canton, where construction permits are actually up 10% from last year, Mitchell Subaru plans to build a new 27,000-square-foot facility.

Mark Mitchell, owner, Mitchell Auto Group

Mitchell Auto Group owns dealerships in Windsor, Hartford and Simsbury, in addition to the current 19,000-square-foot Subaru dealership at 71 Albany Turnpike in Canton. The family business for 15 years has owned land a couple doors down at 95 Albany Turnpike where it plans to build the new dealership, owner Mark Mitchell said.

“We have outgrown our current facility,” Mitchell said. “We need more space [to expand our] ability to service cars.”

The Subaru dealership opened in 1982, a decade after Mitchell Auto Group became one of the United States’ first exclusive Subaru dealers. The company has been in Mitchell’s family since 1922, and now runs eight dealerships that sell brands including Saab, Dodge and Land Rover. Mitchell declined to disclose the company’s annual revenue.

Business has been stable at Mitchell’s dealerships, he said. Customers on the lots have to follow social distancing and mask regulations, but aside from that not much has changed about the way they’re going about buying cars.

“They generally still want to test drive and personally engage before making a buying decision,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell is currently seeking town approval to move forward with what he expects will be a multimillion-dollar project, and is shopping around for a construction company.

However, he noted the process seems to be moving a bit slower than in the past, since the pandemic has made organizing deals more difficult.

“COVID makes things a little bit more difficult regarding communications and trying to put business deals together,” Mitchell said.

[Read more: HBJ examines developments in CT towns, cities]

But regardless of coronavirus complications, it hasn’t stopped new construction proposals in Canton.

Between March 1 and Aug. 25, Canton saw a 10% spike in new construction permits compared with the same period last year, said Neil Pade, the town’s director of planning and community development.

On Albany Turnpike alone, there are two new businesses under construction — 110 Grille and an Aldi grocery store — and the Kilburn Live drive-in movie theater recently debuted at The Shops at Farmington Valley.

Photo | Contributed
Mitchell Subaru in Canton.

Multiple businesses in town are also expanding. The town’s second-largest employer Favarh—The Arc of the Farmington Valley Inc. — a nonprofit serving people with intellectual disabilities — is in the final permitting process of adding nearly 15,000 square feet of facilities on its Commerce Street campus.

“A contributing factor may be that as a community we spent a considerable amount of time several years ago engaging the public, businesses, and residential and commercial property owners to discuss how the town may grow and change over the next 10 years,” Pade said.

Those conversations led Canton to adopt a new plan of conservation and development, which includes working toward increasing the town’s business-to-residential tax base proportion, and focusing on development of “opportunity locations” like commercial areas on Route 44, where stakeholders see significant economic potential.

Other recently approved construction projects include a 1,200-square-foot fast-food restaurant and redevelopment of a vacant gas station — both on Albany Turnpike — and a nearly 100,000-square-foot apartment building on Cherry Brook Road.

Beyond that, Canton is about to start construction on a $400,000 project funded by a state Department of Transportation grant to improve road safety and connection to transit.

The town is also planning next spring to enter phase two of its $1.8 million Collinsville Streetscape Project, which will provide for a series of strategic connections between the recreational trail, performance venues, restaurants and shops to stimulate economic activity, Pade said. That project is funded by the Main Street Investment Fund and a state Transit Oriented Development Responsible Growth Grant.

“For a somewhat rural/suburban community on the fringe of Harford County we are doing a lot,” Pade said.

At Mitchell Auto Group, Mark Mitchell is now going back and forth between town and Subaru officials on the building’s design, he said. He said his Canton Subaru dealership will likely move into its new location in about a year.

“It is our intention to do our best to build a dealership that is environmentally advanced,” Mitchell said.

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