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Moreno Hopes to Build on Success of Mercedes Dealership With Smart Cars in Covington

The new Mercedes dealership in Ft. Mitchell has been so successful since its opening last year that it is now part of the number one luxury brand in the Greater Cincinnati market.

Owner Bernie Moreno now hopes to build on that success with a Smart Car dealership in Covington.

While walking to work in an urban setting is appealing, Moreno would have the luxury of a simple elevator ride to his planned Smart Car location. It would operate in the first floor retail space of the landmark Ascent condo tower in Downtown Covington where he recently purchased a home.

It's not his only home, though. Moreno lives in Cleveland where also operates a successful Mercedes site.

"I feel it's a great spot because the Smart Car is a phenomenal city vehicle and Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is becoming an urban center again," Moreno said. "I think that's a huge part of the equation now that the market is right for a great urban vehicle."

The retail space at the Ascent has been unoccupied since the building opened in 2007. Moreno thinks his Smart Car idea is a good fit there in a region he has come to love. "The Ascent is a marquee building in the whole Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati downtown area and what better place to have it," he said. "It's a stone's throw on an airplane to anywhere, there's the arts, sports, and none of the big city drama with all the big city benefits."

He's also a fan of the local menu. "There are phenomenal restaurants. I mean, holy mackerel. I like being unable to decide which one of the restaurants I'm going to go to," Moreno said. "People who live there take for granted what a great area it is."

The Covington City Commission heard a first reading of an ordinance on Tuesday night that would change the zoning of the area surrounding the Ascent to allow for the sale of vehicles like the Smart Car. The Kenton County Planning Commission unanimously recommended its approval.

Moreno will also require a green light from Mercedes which owns the Smart Car brand.

"It's not a done deal but I'm certainly advocating for it," he said. 

 photo ascentsmartcar_zps1d35d5c9.jpg

Where the Smart Car dealership would locate in the Ascent/RCN file

If approval is gained it would be the ambitious man's next attempt at a successful vehicle operation. Born in the South American country of Colombia, Moreno moved to South Florida when he was five years old. He then headed north to attend the University of Michigan because he wanted to go into the car business. His first career was with the corporate offices of Saturn before a dozen years spent working at a dealership in New England. 

Moreno moved to Cleveland nine years ago to buy his first dealership.

And now he hopes to grow his presence in Northern Kentucky where the Ft. Mitchell Mercedes site is thriving in a location that previously home to a troubled hotel next to the interstate.

"It's been insanely successful in Ft. Mitchell," he said. "It's a great location because you can almost throw a stone to Downtown. It also captures the enormous and prosperous area of Northern Kentucky which for me, it was really a statement to the outside world to say that he, Northern Kentucky is a great market and there is a lot of stuff going on there."

He said that the Mercedes location is on track to be the largest dealership in Kentucky and in the next two or three years, the largest in the Midwest.

Currently, the largest location is Moreno's in Cleveland. While he loves Mercedes ("I feel like I'm in Heaven every day") he is looking forward to the possibility of selling the Smart Car, too. The tiny, efficient vehicle began as a joint venture between Swatch and Mercedes (Smart stands for "S"watch, "M"ercedes, and "art"), Mercedes now makes them exclusively.

The company has a limited number of Smart outlets. "So we're asking them to add one and they are going through the approval process," Moreno said. He said the early effort included ensuring that the location had the proper zoning. He worked closely with the Ascent's developer, Bill Butler ("an amazing partner of ours") and the City of Covington ("which was fantastic to work with"). "The next step is to get Mercedes and then hopefully we can be open soon," he said.

As for the look of the location, "The Smart Car is about young, hip, cool, interesting. So, the space has to look like that," Moreno said. While Mercedes has to finalize the design, he anticipates cars hanging from the ceiling. "Something really cool, something that is more in the line of an Apple Store than a car dealership."

While there is a Smart Car dealer in northern Cincinnati, Moreno said that a lot of the customers are in Northern Kentucky. He'll be able to offer service to those owners at the Mercedes location in Ft. Mitchell.

And new customers could be quite close to the new 1,700 sq. ft. proposed location. "I think the biggest group of clients will be my neighbors in the Ascent," Moreno said.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News