The Kenly 95 Petro, which bills itself as the East Coast’s biggest truck stop, is about to get a whole lot bigger.
The distinctive travel center with the lighthouse landmark plans to add 23,000 square feet of shopping space, which will bring its total footprint close to 60,000 square feet at Exit 106 on Interstate 95.
The plan is to break ground in January, and the new construction should take about 18 months to complete, General Manager Ernie Brame said. The truck stop currently employs about 190 full- and part-time workers, and the expansion should bring the workforce up to 250 employees, he said.
On Monday, Johnston County Commissioners approved tax incentives for the project after a presentation by Chris Johnson, the county’s head of economic development. The expansion will create about $4 million of new tax base, Johnson said, and the county agreed to return 50 percent of the new taxes collected for a three-year period.
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That works out to about $50,000 of new revenue for the county and an equal amount of property taxes returned to Kenly 95 Petro over three years, Johnson said.
The truck stop’s expansion plans are small compared to Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk’s recent announcement of plans to build a $1.85 billion plant near Clayton, Brame said, but he emphasized that it is still a significant investment.
“I never thought I’d hear the words ‘only $4 million,’ ” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of Johnston County with all the growth that’s going on.”
The truck stop will use the new space to expand its retail offerings, which it tailors to truckers, travelers and locals looking to shop for convenience items, Brame said.
It will also feature a large display window in which a full-sized big rig tractor will light up and spin on a rotating platform, he said. The new exhibit will be in action 24-hours a day, seven days a week, Brame said. Coupled with the truck stop’s existing lighthouse, it will serve as another eye-catching way to grab traffic off the interstate, he said.
Also, a showroom will house a full-length truck trailer, allowing shoppers to see how the latest accessories will look when installed.
When construction begins early next year, Brame said, the first step will be to renovate and expand the existing bathrooms, which are no longer adequate for the volume of shoppers the truck stop serves. In the interim, customers will have to use temporary facilities.
The Kenly truck stop opened in 1980 as Truckland Truckstop, and it became a Truckstops of America franchise in 1982. The store had several small expansions and renovations over the years, Brame said, but its growth really took off after the Iowa 80 Group purchased the facility in 2004. The new owners made minor improvements for the first few years and undertook a major addition in 2009 that added 18,000 square feet of retail space.
Kenly 95 Petro includes an Iron Skillet, Caribou Coffee, Dairy Queen, Subway and Wendy’s restaurants. In a separate project from the one announced this month, a combination Taco Bell and Pizza Hut will open after the first of the year, Brame said.
It’s unlikely that Iowa 80 Group’s latest investment will be its last, Brame said.
“Our company never sits still,” he said. “We’re always on the move, and this is just another phase of our growth and development. It’s not the final piece – it’s just another step.”
As a former chairman of the Kenly Chamber of Commerce, Commissioner Ted Godwin said he could testify to how much the Iowa 80 Group’s investment had meant to northern Johnston.
“I commend them for what they’ve done for that area of the county that really needs the growth, whereas in other parts of the county, it just naturally occurs,” he said.
Commissioner Cookie Pope said she used to drive past Kenly 95 Petro, and she had no idea how extensive its offerings were until she finally stopped in one day.
“I used to think you only sold fuel,” she said. “You can do your Christmas shopping in there.”