S&L to move HQ, Ford dealership to Little Suamico

Company plans to maintain presence in Oconto Falls
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

S&L Motors, which purchased the former Peterson Ford in Oconto Falls in November 2021, is planning to move its corporate headquarters and Ford dealership to Little Suamico.

Sean Baxter, president of S&L Ford/Kayser Automotive Group, told the Oconto Falls City Council on April 9 that the company plans to maintain a presence in Oconto Falls but will probably seek other uses for two of the four former Peterson buildings.

“We’ll also be able to maintain some operations on Main Street (in Oconto Falls),” Baxter said, adding that Mike Peterson likely would remain a part of the Oconto Falls operation when the dealership moves to the northwest corner of the U.S. Highway 41-141 interchange at Brown Road at the Brown-Oconto county line.

The Little Suamico location will be a full-service Ford dealership housing the company’s administration and primary sales and service staff, he said.

“As you know, we did buy all the real estate from Toby (Peterson), so we’ll have a plan to maintain some light repair, body shop business in Oconto Falls — that’s our plan,” Baxter said. “Our market area stretches essentially (across) the county, so we’re geographically spread out. The population centers that we serve the most happen to be in the southern part of that county, but we still can’t abandon everyone in the rest of the county.”

The proposal cleared the Little Suamico planning commission and town board in early April, and the rezoning request now goes to Oconto County, a process expected to take six to eight weeks, he said. Land acquisition are the start of construction are expected to occur in August, and construction should take 12-18 months.

“We’re talking about that it’s happening, but it’s really going to be late 2025, 2026 before we see any meaningful changes for Oconto Falls,” Baxter said.

S&L plans to utilize the main building and body shop, with the future of the other two buildings to be determined.

“I’d love to be able to work together with somebody, maybe the city, and understand what the needs are,” Baxter said. “I understand from talking with City Administrator (Peter) Wills that there is a demand for more for Main Street. We are in the real estate business, so I’d love to be able to talk about what the needs are, and maybe we can attract some redevelopment potential.”

Baxter said the company doesn’t necessarily want to sell the property but is willing to be part of redevelopment or reinvestment.

He equivocated when Alderperson Marty Coopman asked if there’s any chance that some new or used car sales could stay in Oconto Falls.

“That’s one that’s evolving, I’m not trying to evade your question, but a lot of what manufacturers are trying to get at is pick up and delivery, full service, come to where the guests are, so we’re looking out two years and saying ‘What’s the future of auto retailing?’” Baxter said. “A lot of it might be that we come to you, so the inventory and all of the personnel might be maintained in Little Suamico, but when it comes time to purchase, does that mean we deliver it to Oconto Falls? Possibly.”

The vehicle inventory itself would be in Little Suamico for the most part, he said.

Pressed by Coopman about the future of the former Peterson campus, Baxter said, “I can make that commitment — we don’t operate empty buildings. If it’s not going to be used, I’d just as soon come up with a different use for it. If we are going to vacate something, we want to be able to find a purpose for it and not just let it sit.”

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com