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Vail’s Gillett may be close to buying Burt dealerships

John Rebchook
john.rebchook@indenvertimes.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-Vail-based businessman George Gillett Jr. is close to buying a big portion of the Burt Automotive empire, a source tells INDenverTimes.

Burt Automotive, headed by Lloyd Chavez and his son, L.G. Chavez Jr., is the largest minority-owned automobile dealership in the nation and one of the largest Hispanic businesses in the U.S. The privately held company generated more than $2.1 billion in revenues in 2007.

Gillett, whose diverse holdings include the Vista Auto Group dealership chain, is teaming up with auto dealer veteran Rod Buscher to buy dealerships from Burt, according to a source, who spoke to INDenverTimes on the condition that his name not be revealed. Buscher previously was a partner with John Elway, a former Denver Broncos quarterback, for his automobile dealerships.



The deal to purchase the Burt holdings, which likely would not include its newest properties in Parker, could close as early as next month, the source told INDenverTimes this week. The source did not know the sale price.

Neither Gillett, Buscher, Lloyd Chavez or his son returned calls for this article.

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However, earlier, Gillett and Buscher said it is their policy is not to comment or discuss rumors.

“We are a family-owned business and we don’t talk about rumors. Ever,” Gillett said. “But don’t read anything into that. Just because I’m not commenting about it, doesn’t mean that something is happening.”

Gillett “would appear to be poised to increase his footprint in Colorado with more dealerships,” Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealership Association told INDenverTimes.



“George Gillett has assembled a very visionary and experienced dealership network with a very experienced group of managers,” Jackson added. “His dealerships are very growth-oriented and high-volume-oriented.”

In 1997, when Elway and Buscher sold their six dealerships for $82.5 million in stock in Republic Industries, a company headed by billionaire Wayne Huizenga, the senior Chavez told the Rocky Mountain News he had no intention of selling, despite record prices being paid for dealerships. Burt dealerships dwarfed Elway’s and Buscher’s dealerships in size.

So why would a dealer consider selling now, at a time when the industry is undergoing its worst financial crisis in modern history?

“An excellent question,” Jackson said. “Now, there is more pressure to sell. It is certainly not a good time in the industry. It is a buyer’s market, not a seller’s market.”

That could mean bargains for risk-takers.

“Right now, if you are wanting to make a gamble on certain brands and lines, and put more money into dealerships, you might be making a very good investment,” Jackson continued. “But clearly, these are very tough times for everyone.”

L.G. Chavez Jr. last year told Hispanic Business Magazine that he has been preparing for the economic downturn for the past five years by cutting expenses, reducing inventory, and developing a “bench” of top managers to help face challenges.

“Your business does not have the luxury of standing still or ‘hunkering down’ until the storm is over, because you will come out of the bomb shelter and find everything moved without you,” Chavez told the magazine.

This is the 70th anniversary of Burt Automotive, which was founded in 1939 by Nate B. Burt. In 1951, Lloyd Chavez started in the sales department at Burt Chevrolet on Broadway. Over the following 35 years, Chavez acquired Burt Chevrolet, Burt Toyota, and Burt Subaru from the Burt family. The Burt Automotive Network now includes eight dealerships, according to the company’s Web site: Burt Chevrolet on Broadway, Burt Subaru, Burt Toyota Scion, Burt Ford on Arapahoe, Burt Mazda, Burt Ford in Parker, Burt Chevrolet in Parker, and Burt Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Parker.

Gillett’s other holdings include the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, which he reportedly is considering to sell. He also is an owner of the English Premier League Liverpool F.C. Team, the NASCAR auto racing team, Richard Petty Motorsports.

In 1985, Gillett bought Vail Associates’ Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, largely using junk bond financing. In 1992, Gillett’s companies sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when high-interest rates punished junk bond issuers. However, he made $32.1 million when Vail began trading publicly.

In 1996, he formed Booth Creek Ski Holdings that acquired or built ski resorts in New Hampshire, California, Washington and Wyoming.


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