Fresno Bee

Visalia Gets New ‘Biggest’ – VF Outdoor Center Includes 800,000 Square Feet.

December 4, 2005

Visalia is flat like Kansas and tamed into settlement by pavement, irrigation and housing subdivisions, but it will soon be a stopping point for expedition gear devised for backcountry adventure.

VF Outdoor Inc.’s distribution center, now under construction at the southwest corner of Plaza Drive and Riggin Avenue, will be the launching pad for The North Face brand products – now distributed from the Midwest — and Reef, a surf-inspired brand of footwear and clothing.

The 800,000-square-foot building is about 50% complete, according to Scott Burke, director of distribution for VF Outdoor Inc., a subsidiary of VF Corp.

“We look for it to be under roof by the end of February [and] operational by June 1,” he said. As it stands in early December, the distribution center is still blank walls of concrete, the last structure on Plaza Drive before the northern city limits and acres of farmland between Visalia and the northern Tulare County city of Dinuba.

But when it is completed next year, VF’s building will be the city’s largest building by far: Jo-Ann’s Stores Inc.’s distribution center, which stands at about 600,000 square feet just south on Plaza Drive in the city’s industrial park, will fall to second place.

The VF building’s footprint alone could swallow 14 football fields or about 267 fast-food restaurants. Its 64-acre site could hold more than three White Houses, including the grounds. But counting the mezzanine system and upper layers, the building is planned to have a million square feet of working space, according to city officials.

“It’s certainly VF’s largest distribution center and will be our most automated distribution center and it does allow us to ship multiple brands through multiple channels of distribution,” Burke said.

VF Corp., VF Outdoor’s parent company, said during the summer that Visalia will be its largest distribution center by 300,000 square feet, a difference that could hold a Wal-Mart supercenter with room to spare.

Burke this week declined to comment on the building’s cost. Larry Montgomery, construction director of the Allen Group, had estimated earlier this year that the building could cost about $40 million, not including the internal structures such as extensive racking and conveyor systems that VF would add.

When VF announced that Visalia would be the site of its largest distribution center, beating out competition in Nevada, city officials applauded. But it also triggered the question, said Glenn Morris, executive director of the Visalia Economic Development Corp.: What if the next large company comes along?

As a result, the city is considering a square mile, or about 640 acres, north of Riggin Avenue for annexation into the industrial park.

Plaza Drive intersects the land that is owned by two property owners, Russell Doe and David Vargas, according to city planner Brandon Smith.

Doe has submitted an application for his 160 acres to be annexed into the city, Smith said. An application for Vargas’ land is expected in the near future, he added. Morris said companies looking for sites are often seeking their quickest option. Having land developed and ready to go can be a big plus for a city’s competitive position, he said.

For instance, VF wanted to move so fast that it is renting out a 118,000-square-foot temporary facility for its Reef brand, before the larger distribution center is finished next summer. Both brands, Reef and The North Face, are “growth engines” for the company. Third quarter earnings showed that sales rose 14% in the quarter, with Reef contributing $18 million of the $64 million increase. The North Face brand sales increased 23% in the quarter.

Burke said that for “fast-track” projects like the Visalia distribution center, available land does influence companies in choosing a city. “It gives you a better incentive to go to that location,” he said. “It takes all the questions out.” Burke said if land hasn’t made it through the permitting process, the company considers that a risk.

“What if they were doing an inspection and they found anything that would delay your project?” The need for land may become more important as Visalia makes its name as a distribution hub. The city has received more interest from companies since VF Corp., known as the world’s largest clothing company, picked Visalia.

Just this week, two consultants interested in distribution centers larger than 500,000 square feet visited the city, Morris said. In the past, the typical company would be looking for something smaller — 100,000 to 200,000 square feet, he said. “We’re still getting some of those, but we seem to getting a lot more of the bigger projects,” he said.

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