May 17, 2006 - Though talked about for a while, a year will pass before Tucson's Harley-Davidson dealership relocates to Marana.

Owner Bill Coulter hoped to open a larger dealership this summer west of Interstate 10, just north of Ina Road. A spring 2007 opening seems more likely, as the town awaits updated plans for the project.

Last year, Coulter - who owns six Harley dealerships in the Southwest - bought 4.5 acres along Interstate 10 for $1.37 million. The dealership at 250 E. Grant Road will close when the Marana store opens. It has been there for 25 years.

Harley-Davison, Inc. has pushed for dealerships along freeways for years. "It was just a matter of finding the land," said Coulter, who rides a Harley Road King.

A "touring" bike, Road Kings usually cost between $16,000 and $19,000.

For several months, a "Coming Soon" sign has predicted the dealership's move. Once plans get approval from the town, it will take seven to eight months to build the facilities, Coulter said.

The two-story Marana dealership will measure 50,000 square feet, almost double the size of the current location. The showroom, alone, will increase from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.

The existing store displays about 36 new bikes, General Manager Eric Huff said. He anticipates displaying 90 to 100 new bikes in the new showroom.

Staffing for the new dealership will increase from 63 to more than 120, he added.

Harley-Davidson continues to grow locally and internationally. The company pulled in $5.3 billion in 2005, $320 million more than in 2004.

Tucson's dealership sold more than $25 million of merchandise last year. It sold 680 motorcycles. Business only will increase when the dealership opens off the interstate, Huff noted.

"Every time a dealership moves to the freeway, it does 30 percent more business," he said. "It's going to change a lot."

The move will cost Coulter and company about $5.5 million. Some of that expense he hopes to get back by selling the Grant Road property.

Coulter also has asked the company for permission to build a dealership in southern Tucson, too. Harley-Davidson wants just one dealership in Tucson for now, though.

"They've created a product that is sought after," Coulter said. "They don't want one on every corner."

Tucson's Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) chapter has almost 600 members, many of whom live in Marana. Twenty years ago, the chapter had just four members.

"Personally, I think it sucks," Tucson H.O.G. Director John Kohnke joked about the impending relocation. "Actually, though, the beauty is it gives me a longer Harley ride to get there."

Kohnke owns Tucson Trophy Co. and helps train beginning riders at the Harley dealership on Grant. He owns three Harleys, including an Electra Glide Screaming Eagle, the classic Harley bike.

Continental Reserve resident Todd Chumney sells truck parts for a living and has ridden motorcycles for 25 years. In his free time, he hops on his Fat Boy and joins other enthusiasts for long rides.

Known for its "big power," the 700-pound Fat Boy has been one of Harley's most popular bikes over the years. "The engine belts out its baritone song through a set of shotgun pipes," according to Harley-Davidson's Web site.

A 2006 Fat Boy can cost as much as $19,000. The least expensive Harleys come in the form of Sportsters, weighing 570 pounds and costing between $6,000 to $10,000.

This past weekend, several Tucson Harley riders gathered at the Chevron station at Magee and Oracle roads. About 9 a.m. on May 13, they gunned their engines and headed for the Casa Grande Ruins about 65 miles up the road.

"We just get together and take off," Chumney said. Several of his neighbors in Continental Reserve and Continental Ranch ride Harleys, too, he noted.

The myth of the leather-clad Harley rider, with bearded face, windblown hair and chains slowly has been shattered, Coulter explained.

"It really is a lifestyle, but now it's for anyone."

A man may wear a business suit all week and then don a leather jacket and bandana and hop on a bike for a Sunday ride, Coulter said.

"It gives (riders) a sense of freedom. The majority of Harley owners ride for enjoyment."

Harley-Davidson aims for the 35-to-65-year-olds, from blue-collar workers to the "executive types," Coulter said.

The Marana dealership's proximity to the interstate not only should attract new riders, but those who already own Harleys.

"It's amazing how many Harley owners like to stop and buy a T-shirt and look around at each dealership they see," Coulter said.

Harley-Davidson's clothing line MotorClothes does a brisk business in Tucson, he said. The clothing line includes jackets, boots and jeans, as well as sweaters, ties and belts.

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