By Mike Copeland
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Willie’s Place is not Willie’s place anymore.
Travel Centers of America will turn the iconic truck stop at Carl’s Corner north of Hillsboro into a Petro Stopping Center for motorists. Country music legend Willie Nelson and partners opened Willie’s Place there in 2008. It served as a combination fuel stop, saloon, gift shop and performance hall.
TCA bought Willie’s Place for $6.4 million earlier this month on the courthouse steps in Hillsboro.
It seems not even the famous are exempt from foreclosures these days.
Nelson opened Willie’s Place with a shindig in 2008 that included 14 acts, including Willie, Merle Haggard and Ray Price. But now the rollicking place belongs to corporate America.
“We still are trying to determine what we’re going to do with everything. We will have both gasoline and diesel, as the site had before. And we will have an Iron Skillet Restaurant, which truckers, year in and year out, consider the best food on the road,” said Tom Liutkus, spokesman for Ohio-based Travel Centers of America.
It also will have a travel center selling convenience items to motorists and truckers, Liutkus said, and the site has been pre-approved as a Dunkin’ Donuts location.
But the lounge and the concert hall where Nelson performed concerts in recent years will hit the road. They will have no place at Petro Stopping Center.
If everything goes as planned, the new incarnation of Willie’s Place will open in late April.
Liutkus said his company is interviewing current employees and is taking out ads for positions.
Besides spending $6.4 million to acquire Willie’s Place, the company will invest another $2 million getting it in shape to meet company standards, Liutkus said.
Amenities will include driver showers and a television room.
“Having a location we could acquire that recently was operating makes the conversion easier,” Liutkus said. “We can get up for customers much more quickly.”
Travel Centers of America operates both TCA and Petro Stopping Center locations, nearly 230 combined.
The Petro location taking over Willie’s Place will do business on about 12 acres.
Liutkus confirmed the company owns another 25 acres on Highway 77 east of Interstate 35 in north Hillsboro, where it had planned since 2007 to build a new Petro location.
The company now is considering what to do with that site, Liutkus said.
According to published reports, TCA signed an extension with the city of Hillsboro that requires it to build on the site by 2014 or repay $1.3 million spent to extend utilities there.