Industrial park grows by leaps and bounds

VISALIA – Another 2,000 jobs might be capping off the recent industrial boom as a familiar developer continues to expand the boundaries of the Visalia Industrial Park. After luring Amazon into two, million square plus warehouses in the industrial park, Newport Beach-based CapRock is now planning an even larger complex west of Plaza Drive and a mile north of Riggin Avenue. The industrial park’s largest developer plans to build four concrete tilt-up buildings totalling 2.7 million square feet on the 155-acre parcel. Principal owner Pat Daniels said CapRock would break ground on the first phase of the project next year. While the tenants for the  buildings are speculative, the plan suggests they could employ around 2,000 workers with some 2,100 parking places for cars. The plan says they want to feed inbound trucks into the new cluster of buildings off of Plaza.

The huge parcel, considered phase 3 of the Caprock’s industrial park developments, will be sandwiched in between Kibler Avenue (Avenue 320) on the north, Plaza Drive on the east, American Street (Road 76) to the west and Riverway Drive on the south – one mile north of Riggin along Modoc Ditch. Full buildout and signalization of the Kibler Ave. and Plaza Dr. intersection is required with the development of the new Amazon center now nearing completion just north of the first Amazon, part of Phase 2A of the Caprock projects. Caprock’s overall plan also includes another 1 million square feet planned for a vacant lot at the southeast corner of Kibler and Plaza as part of its Phase 2b. Now Daniels has leapt over Plaza to begin and build Phase 3 before Phase 2b starts in a few years. The reason could be Daniels has a different LLC who looks to invest in Phase 3 and perhaps a proposed tenant who has selected this location a mile closer to Highway 99. This new project is breaking new ground in this area as it will require all off-site infrastructure to be in place before development is done, a time consuming process. Phase 3 was submitted for Site Plan Review in January and has incorporated changes received from the city through subsequent meetings on Jan. 21 and March 29, 2022. The city has required the project be built out in phases and is not allowing cars or commercial vehicles to access Building 1 from American (Road 76). Other changes include reducing the size of Building 1 by 34,000 sf and shifting it 110 feet to the south, relocating a retention basin, splitting a 1.3 million square foot Building 2 into three smaller buildings of 322,000, 598,000 and 510,000 square feet.

CapRock kicked off the Visalia logistics boom when it sold acreage to UPS that became a 450,000 square-foot package distribution hub opening in 2020. That was followed by construction of the 1.1 million square-foot Amazon fulfillment center, operational as of last September. About 1,700 people are employed between the two locations. A handful of large players are building or planning to build. Phoenix based Seefried Industries is nearing completion on the new Ace Hardware distribution center and planning another 535,00 sf spec building. Just last week, YS Industries filed plans for a 1.55 million sf development. Fowler Packing is planing to break ground early next year on a 312,000 square foot warehouse. American Air’s Butch Oldfield, busy with a slew of new industrial projects, and Irvine-based Greenfield Partners are working on a 2 million sf complex at Kelsey and 198. Also in the works is the Ritchie/Vidovich partnership’s plan to develop a massive new section of industrial land north of Riggin and west of Shirk totaling 280 acres and adding about 3,000 new jobs. Besides these big projects, the industrial park is also laying out new mom and pop industrial parcels from 5 to 10 acres mostly south of Goshen Avenue along American. Investor Santokh Toor has filed preliminary plans for an 80-acre development with 10 small parcels at the corner of American and Hurley, west of Plaza.

Downtown Lindsay expects major upgrades

LINDSAY – After major retailers abandoned Lindsay in the ’90s, followed by a small recession, then a Great Recession and then COVID-19, the city can use all the help they can get to rejuvenate their downtown. In the first step of many the city of Lindsay partnered with the consulting firm Retail Strategies to update the downtown area. Retail Strategies approaches projects from a commercial development side and a downtown strategies side. The commercial development portfolio director Brookley Valencia presented Retail Strategie’s’ findings from their discovery phase. After conducting some research, the firm presented its more general findings and plans for Lindsay’s downtown at the July 26 city council meeting.

The discovery phase found gaps in four main categories: clothing stores, restaurants, general merchandise and furniture stores. These are areas where people are shopping outside of Lindsay and the goal is to bring that money back into Lindsay by filling those gaps in the market. “Our goal is to open the doors for Lindsay to recover and support the community after COVID-19 and create new businesses, new jobs and improve quality of life,” Valencia said. The information collected during the discovery phase will be used to help connect Lindsay with retailers in order to bring in stores and restaurants that are a good fit for the town. The discovery phase is ongoing, but Retail Strategies will now begin its implementation phase of actually reaching out to retailers to bring them to Lindsay.

On the downtown side, Jeremy Murdock gave a presentation of Retail Strategies’s five-year plan for Lindsay’s downtown, including both aesthetic and retail updates. The plan focuses on creating a positive image that showcases the community’s unique characteristics as well as improving the economy. “A livable, walkable, viable, economically-sustainable downtown is the ultimate goal,” city manager Joe Tanner said. The city reached out to Retail Strategies with the goal of updating their downtown for two reasons: increasing overall quality of life for residents and generating tax revenue for the city. The tax revenue generated from new businesses will help the city fund public services such as parks and recreation, police and fire.

Retail Strategies has developed what they call a property catalog, which is a list of all the available properties including plots of land to be developed as well as empty storefronts and quick-service restaurants. The next step will be connecting those properties with interested retailers. “Our task is to really push Lindsay in front of retail prospects and if they’re expanding into the area, help them find a site and facilitate the conversation to hopefully get a deal going,” said Valencia. Deals between cities and retailers can take between 18 and 36 months, so it will take a few years before residents see major changes to the stores and restaurants in Lindsay. Retail Strategies will stay on as a consultant throughout the project as a liaison between the city and retailers.

‘The Mix’ sets the table for five restaurants in downtown Visalia

VISALIA – Cities with vibrant downtowns know they rely on local restaurants and bars to set the table for success with a mix of great taste and a dash of local flavor. That’s why one local business  owner is trying to bring as many of them into one place as possible to reinvigorate a block of Main Street Visalia which has yet to recover from a devastating fire two and a half years ago. Grant Smith, whose family owns Rent To Own in Visalia, is assembling a group of marquee local eateries to fill the two-story building located at 213-217 W. Main St. He has partnered with his brother-in-law Jeff Bischofberger, of JRC Investments in Long Beach, Calif., to house five locally-owned restaurants in the renovated building dubbed “The Mix.” “We like this project because it is bringing in local businesses, not big corporate businesses,” Smith said. “We feel like downtown should be local otherwise we will lose what our downtown really is.”

Smith and Bischofberger began working on the project just before COVID and it has taken two and a half years to pull it all together. The cornerstone of the project will be second-story dining overlooking Main Street served up by Fugazzis. Smith said he knew he needed a draw like Fugazzis to anchor the project and it was a natural fit because the California bistro had been looking at the site as a possible location for several years. Fugazzis owner Mike Fligor was not available for comment but sources say he will keep the existing location at Main and Locust streets. Expected to open in early 2023, The Mix will also include Main Street mainstay Quesadilla Gorilla, and two mobile businesses making their first go at brick and mortar locations, Bombshell Beans and Scoops ice cream, sharing the downstairs space.

Miguel and Mikayla Reyes are modeling their new Quesadilla Gorilla location after their San Luis Obispo and Hanford spots with a full bar featuring tequila-inspired cocktails, such as margaritas, and craft beer. The site will also become the new headquarters for the restaurant franchise as the lease on its original location across the street is set to expire this fall. The new site is larger and will have indoor seating, something Miguel said they were never able to offer at its current downtown location. “It’s sad to see the [original location] go but this location will allow us to offer more to our guests,” Miguel said. After three years of growing his business on the road, Bombshell Beans owner Steve Mohr said he is excited about the prospect of taking his coffee truck concept and turning it into a traditional coffee shop. “We’ve had to move around so much it has been difficult for people to find us,” Mohr said. “It will be nice to be in a location that is visible in downtown and should be busy since we’re moving in with local rockstar restaurants.”

The coffee shop will allow Bombshell to do blended drinks, something he can’t do from truck because there isn’t access to enough water for cleaning the blenders and begin offering its own brand of canned energy drinks. Mohr said the new shop will also give him a homebase to begin building a fleet and a franchise of coffee trucks. He said customers can look for one of its newest trucks to begin serving coffee outside of Galaxy Theatre in Tulare later this month. “The future of Bombshell Beans is bright,” Mohr said. “We are really excited about this opportunity.” Justin Kauffman started Scoops ice cream cart in 2018 and has steadily risen in popularity at local events with its premium and delicious ice cream, sundaes, and other tasty treats. He said he was excited about the potential to expand into his first permanent location alongside other popular local restaurants.

There is one space left to fill in the building in the downstairs open “food hall” format. Renderings show a cheese shop, but Smith said that was just an idea to round out the illustration and there are not currently any leases signed and no serious talks with any businesses for that spot. “We feel like this really brings something new to downtown we haven’t really seen in this area,” Smith said. The building was formerly occupied by Quality Jewelers, which closed after 39 years in business, and Ziayas, a family-owned studio & gift shop that provides wellness tools, accessories, and home essentials with a focus on community, healing, and sustainability, which relocated to the 800 block of Main Street. The block was also vacated by Pacific Treasures, which relocated to the xxx block of Main, following a devastating fire the night after Christmas in 2018. The fire completely destroyed the building which housed a collection of popular eateries including Mamma K’s and Cafe 225 and caused major smoke and water damage to Little Italy Restaurant and Exotica Hair Studio. The three-alarm fire caused extensive damage causing the building’s entire roof to cave in. The scars of the fire remain today. The front of the shops remain boarded up and spray painted with an artistic lettering of Visalia to distract from the vacant buildings. Nearly all of the businesses folded up shop for good. To date, The Mix is the only project in the works to rebuild and reinvigorate what was once a bustling block of Visalia’s downtown.

Inland port will bring new jobs, investment to Kern

Eastern Kern will be the site of a major goods-movement project expected to help address shipping bottlenecks at ports in Southern California while attracting local investment and possibly new jobs in a sector usually associated with the valley portion of the county. The county Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on the Mojave Inland Port, proposed by a Houston-based developer that says the privately financed project will open by 2024 operating nonstop to handle up to 3 million 20-foot-equivalent containers per year. Located next to the Mojave Air and Space Port, the 402-acre property near highways 14 and 58 is one of few areas in the state served by air, road and rail transportation. It was chosen partly for that reason and because of ample space nearby for additional warehouse development by customers like Amazon, Walmart and Lowe’s.

Los Angeles’ Beacon Economics has estimated the project will generate $113 million in Kern and support 662 regional jobs during construction, adding $73 million to the county’s property-tax base. It says the development will ultimately support 2,851 permanent jobs in Kern, with positions ranging from foreman and crane operator to manager and driver. Developer Pioneer Partners, whose biggest project to date is a 2,200-acre brownfield development in Henderson, Nev., said 75 people will work directly for the inland port engaging with more than 1,000 truck drivers.

The idea is that ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, where land is scarce, will send container-carrying rail cars along the Alameda Corridor to Mojave, 90 miles away. There the containers will be lifted using wheeled gantry cranes and placed onto tractor-trailer rigs that will then drive away on the freeway system. The air and space port is expected to see more traffic as a result of the project.  “We believe the additional container traffic coming to Mojave will stimulate its use as a hub for air and space cargo, taking advantage of its 12,500-foot heavy lift runway directly adjacent to a new, state-of-the-art intermodal cargo hub,” Pioneer said in response to emailed questions.

Some work remains to be done with regard to permitting of buildings at the site. Project groundbreaking is expected in early 2023. A final price tag has not been released. Port container volumes have been growing quickly even before the pandemic caused disruptions that have made improving goods movement a high priority for U.S. importers and exporters. Pioneer says moving cargo-handling activities inland presents fewer environmental impacts than expanding operations at the ports. Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in a news release the rise in shipping traffic shows no sign of letting up. “Being surrounded by the dense urban areas of Long Beach and South Los Angeles, there is limited real estate available,” she stated. “The Mojave Inland Port is the type of innovative solution that will alleviate congestion and allow dockworkers to do their jobs more efficiently, getting goods to businesses and consumers faster.”

In Kern, distribution centers in recent years have been built mainly in Shafter, near the Grapevine and near Meadows Field Airport. The Inland Port project would appear to signal that more such development is headed to the Mojave area. Vice President Bill Deaver at the Mojave Chamber of Commerce noted the proposal has been around for more than a decade and that in all that time he has heard no opposition to it. His hope is the project will help the county replace the local oil production industry. “This is another new business that you can replace the old business,” Deaver said, adding he expects to see new investment follow announcement of the inland port. “You get more people, you’re going to need more grocery stores,” he said.

Patriot Rail to establish rail district in central California

Patriot Rail CEO John E. Fenton is hoping the creation of a new rail district in central California will be a boon not only for his company but also for agricultural producers in the region. Patriot Rail is part of a public-private partnership with local leaders to develop a rail district for central California. Patriot Rail will lease approximately 6,500 feet of track and related property to Merced County, and the company will invest $1.2 million to increase rail capacity there at the Castle Commerce Center. The lease’s term spans 20 years, but it could be renewed in subsequent years. Patriot Rail interchanges with BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B), meaning that agricultural producers will have expanded access to the West Coast ports as well to the domestic market. When local economic developers were pursuing options for a rail district, BNSF brought Patriot Rail to the table, according to Fenton. “We think this is a great opportunity for the state of California to make their farmers even that much more competitive around the world,” Fenton told FreightWaves.

Patriot Rail’s involvement in the rail district was in response to an area shipper’s needs. Tomato products producer Morning Star and its warehousing provider needed to expand their packaging capabilities, and so they were looking for an area to grow, according to Fenton. Locations such as Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento were already at capacity, so expanding production in the San Joaquin Valley was the next natural location, Fenton said. “The San Joaquin Valley is one of the agricultural centers of the world. And there’s a lot of tomatoes that come out of that region,” Fenton said. Fenton hopes to have Patriot Rail’s assets ready by May 1, which is when the pack season starts for Morning Star. The pack season involves 100 days of operations running 24/7. In that time, Morning Star produces about 9,000 cans of tomatoes per minute, Fenton said.

According to the California Tomato Growers Association, tomato producers in the state processed 11.3 million tons of tomatoes in 2020, and that production has a value worth $887 million. Other agricultural products in the region include almonds, wine and cheese. According to the Almond Board of California, the counties of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin in central California produced 921 million pounds of almonds during the 2020-2021 crop year, representing nearly 30% of overall California almond production.

Although Patriot Rail and others aren’t sure yet how many carloads might come out of the rail district, the rail district provides shippers with the opportunity to build warehouses and expand production. “We are meeting with all the agricultural shippers in the region. We want them to have a say in what kind of services they’re looking for. … The demand is really high, and we’re going to start to piece that together. The first thing is to really understand what the demand will be so we can build the facility and plan the facility in the right way,’ Fenton said. “We’re still scoping that [demand] but over time, we think it will become a very large rail district in the state of California.”

The agreement with Merced County was executed with Patriot Rail subsidiary Foster Townsend Rail Logistics. “Castle Commerce Center has enormous potential and is quickly becoming a site of regional, national and international significance,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel said in a release last week. McDaniel’s district includes Castle. “Patriot is a major part of our vision for Castle, and we’re looking forward to working with the partners they bring to help expand this growth and spur future job creation.”


Kings County supports basing new F-35 squadron at NAS Lemoore

This week the Kings County Board of Supervisors wrote a strong letter of support to add a new F-35 squadron to the base at NAS Lemoore with a nationwide four-location competition underway. In their letter of support, the supervisors said: “With an excess of 11,800 jobs attributed to the base, and a payroll exceeding $475 million, NAS Lemoore represents the single largest employer in Kings County. The continued success of NAS Lemoore is critical to our local economy. “We stand firm in our commitment to the support of NAS Lemoore – the nation’s premier Naval master jet base. Please know that the County of Kings and the Kings County Board of Supervisors highly support the Department of the Air Force and National Guard Bureau’s decision to consider locating the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore.”

The local competition includes Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Supervisor Doug Verboon said they support the plan to base the squadron, with some 80 new personnel, at Lemoore, and noted the noisy aircraft would impact more city residents in Fresno compared to the Kings County base, which is surrounded by farmland. The National Guard Bureau and Department of the Air Force are inviting the public to learn about the proposal to locate the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore. An informational meeting to learn more about the proposal, ask questions and to submit comments will be held in person on Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the L.T.A. Portuguese Hall located at 470 Champion St. in Lemoore.

Lemoore is one of the four preferred locations that are being considered for the beddown of F-35A aircraft that would replace the legacy F-15C/D aircraft. In addition to Fresno, the competing locations for the F-35A beddowns are:

• Barnes Air National Guard Base at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, Westfield, Massachusetts.

• NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

Faraday Future deal pending

Faraday Future and an investor have indicated a possible deal to invest $100,000 to $600,000 with the start-up car maker, enough to get production going in Hanford if the agreement is done. A filing with the SEC indicates a deal could be consummated Aug. 8.

Gas prices

Kings County gasoline prices are lower again this week dropping 60 cents in the past month, says AAA. Diesel is down 50 cents. The average in the county today is $5.51 a gallon but you can buy gas here for $4.64, $4.65 or $4.66 at local stations. As for oil, it is down to the $91 a barrel range from a high of $121 in mid-June. Oil prices fell more than 3% Wednesday after data showed U.S. inventories rose more than expected and as investors digested the latest OPEC+ decision to raise crude output by 100,000 barrels per day for next month. Last month, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and called on OPEC to increase production, but capacity constraints and the inability of some member states to meet output targets made the prospect of any significant supply boost unlikely. Meanwhile, EIA data showed stocks of crude unexpectedly rose by 4.467 million barrels last week, the most in a month, and compared to forecasts of a 0.629 million fall.

Building homes

So far this year, Visalia-based San Joaquin Homes is the busiest home builder in Kings County, permitting 115 new single family residences compared to second place Lennar Homes with 40 home starts, according to figures from Construction Monitor.

What’s this?

A decline in the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage has had a positive effect on several areas of the real estate market in the past week. “The 30-year fixed rate saw the largest weekly decline since 2020, falling 31 basis points to 5.43%,” said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “The drop in rates led to increases in both refinance and purchase applications, but compared to a year ago, activity is still depressed.”

New pistachio plant slated for Westside

Western Fresno County already has had the big 100-silo Wonderful Pistachio plant and a big Assemi family plant (Touchstone) on the drawing board since 2018, a 49-silo project that has been challenged by Wonderful and delayed for four years in this highly competitive industry. Now the Stamoules family wants to join the party to build a large pistachio hulling, processing, and packing facility on 98 acres on the northwest corner of S. Newcomb and W. Muscat avenues approximately 9.7 mile south of Firebaugh. Once all phases are complete the plant would sport an impressive 60 silos. Stamoules Produce Co., Inc., based in Mendota, was launched in the 1920s as a cantaloupe grower when the Greek founder Spero Stamoules immigrated to the U.S. According to their application to the County, the proposed project would be implemented in four phases.

Visalia loses round in court to Sierra Club over ag mitigation

In a July 21 ruling Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Mathias ruled against the City of Visalia over their revised program to not require ag land mitigation from developers who want to bring farmland into the city for urban development. The previous policy, part of the General Plan, would have required developers – typically home builders – to pay into a fund that would set aside ag land elsewhere. The mitigation policy would apply to ag land in Tiers 11 and 111 – generally at the city’s urban edge. The city’s general plan, adopted in 2014, featured a three-tier system to encourage development first in Tier 1 before future subdivisions in Tier 11 and 111 were added.

The mitigation policy has been championed by those who want to discourage sprawl on the outskirts of the city and promote infill within the city. The fee developers would pay would help buy the mitigation land on a one-to-one basis. The judge did not rule on the merits of the ag mitigation policy but ruled against the city for not fully assessing the change in policy under CEQA that ended the Ag Mitigation Program (AMP). The ruling means that the ag mitigation program will stay for now. Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said he was “surprised – thinking the plan we made was ironclad.” Now he says he understands “this is not a minor fix and we need to know if this will delay us.”

Sierra Club attorney Babak Naficy commented “that the City of Visalia will be mandated to rescind their amended policy,” adding that the city consultant study on the plan was faulty. Court documents show that the Sierra Club and Central Valley Partnership challenged Visalia’s adopted amendment last August by filing a petition for writ of mandate, contending Visalia lacked substantial evidence to support removal of the AMP requirement; and that Visalia abused its discretion by preparing an “addendum” to a previously certified environmental impact report (EIR) for the policy change rather than a subsequent or supplemental EIR.

Judge Mathias agreed, saying ”The court finds use of an addendum in the circumstances of this case is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and, therefore, grants the petition. The court’s ruling is confined to this limited issue, and specifically does not extend to the ultimate issue of whether the AMP requirement may or should be removed from the general plan.”

Seven Visalia developments impacted now

For home builders wanting to build in Tier 11, the effect is the same until the city goes through a full EIR to remove the AMP from the general plan – a lengthy process that could put off new approvals for months or even years and with an uncertain outcome. Who will be impacted? Mayor Nelsen says he understands there are seven Visalia housing projects ready to move into Tier 11 in the pipeline after several years of a boom in permit activity. “For those seven projects to move forward, we need to iron this out,” he said. Now the Tulare County judge has ruled the city action needs to be rescinded – putting in limbo new applications for subdivisions in Tier 11, some 1,500 acres inside the urban boundary. The need for Tier 11 land to build is clear because most of the Tier 1 land in the city has been subdivided.

Fresno EDC Awarded $23M Grant for Regional Four County Workforce Training Program

An ambitious workforce program to place 2,500 Central Valley residents into high-demand jobs received a $23 million infusion from the federal government this week. The program is called Central Valley Built 4 Scale and will be administered by the Fresno County Economic Development Corp. It is one of 32 projects in the U.S. receiving grants form a pool of 509 applicants as part of the American Rescue Plan’s $500 million Good Jobs Challenge.

Built 4 Scale will leverage the resources of local organizations and employers to create apprenticeship opportunities, bootcamp-style and individualized training programs and career placement services to match 2,500-plus residents in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties with jobs in sectors including financial services, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, construction and more.

The program is unique in that these are jobs just waiting to be filled by qualified candidates. The Fresno EDC already has firm hiring commitments from more than 50 local employers to hire more than 900 of those employees. “This announcement is a big deal for our Valley! Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we are accelerating America’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Rep Jim Costa. “This $23 million grant will bolster our regional economy by creating new, good-paying jobs in construction, financial services, and manufacturing industries. I am proud to have advocated for this project and voted to provide the funding that made it possible. This will help build a stronger, more resilient economy for the people of the San Joaquin Valley.”

Finding a qualified, educated workforce has been a top challenge for local employers, with forecasts that the Central Valley will need more than 10,000 new employees in those target sectors by 2026. The Fresno EDC has extensive experience in job-training programs through administering the Fresno County-funded welfare-to-work program, which has provided $12.6 million in subsidized wages, enrolled 280 businesses and supported nearly 1,900 job placements since 2014. The Good Jobs Challenge awards are expected to help place more than 50,000 Americans in “quality jobs” — exceeding the local prevailing wage for an industry in the region and including basic benefits.

The Fresno EDC is one of only two California projects funded. The other is $21.4 million for the Foundation for California Community Colleges to launch a forestry workforce training program. “This funding will launch quality workforce training programs and opportunities to help workers develop new skills, address workforce needs and connect people with good-paying jobs in the Central Valley,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I thank the Biden Administration for investing in our efforts to support businesses and workers throughout California.”