PHILADELPHIA — Long frustrated by government interference that nixed previous relocation plans, Philadelphia distributors are eagerly awaiting next year’s planned opening of their new regional produce market.

The decaying and decrepit Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, which marks its 50th year this year, has long outlived its aging facilities, distributors say.

Wholesalers finally broke ground for the market building last fall. The market construction process started in 2000.

Construction at the new facility, located in the southwest part of town near the airport along an area called auto row on 67th Street and Essington Ave., is considered to be ahead of schedule, said Jimmy Storey, president of the terminal association and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co.

Storey said the market is scheduled to open during the fall of 2010.

“Everyone is excited about going there,” he said. “We are all a little nervous, of course. It will be a good thing.”

The new operation will be housed on 63 total acres, considerably larger than the present facility’s 24-acre site.

“This market will be a showcase for the future,” said Mark Levin, co-owner of M. Levin & Co Inc., which plans to move from two units on the current market to four at the new location. “Ours will be state-of-the-art until the next market is built. We are trying to think of problems 10-15 years from now.”

The improvement, which will have distributors working in an entirely enclosed operation that features different climate-controlled refrigeration, should thwart objections from customers that have refused to buy from the market because of food safety concerns in the present facilities.

The new 686,000-square-foot operation includes an 18,000-square-foott ancillary recycling and maintenance building, said Dan Kane, a market association assistant.

Wholesalers will work in stalls that are approximately 40 feet wide by 140 feet long, about five feet wider and 10 feet longer than current operations, merchants said.  Market stockholders can lease up to six units, Kane said.

Some market vendors worry about having to pay higher rents.

“I have repeatedly asked about rent. No one can seem to tell me,” said Tom Curtis, president of Tom Curtis Brokerage, who has his office on the second floor of the main market building.  “One board member tells me he’s not even sure what his rent will be. This is kind of a sticky situation to be in. Will my rent triple? If a guy down here says he’s not concerned, then something’s wrong.”

Jack Collotti Jr., vice president of Collotti & Sons Produce Inc., worries about increased costs.

“The new market will bring a lot higher expenses,” he said. “It will be more expensive to do business in.”

Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., also used to worry about higher expected costs but now says fear of the future can be expected.

“You always are more afraid of the unknown,” he said. “Costs will be a big part of it for the future for a lot of people. It could be double. Everything will be higher.”

When the present market installed new refrigeration units during the 1990s, many merchants told Roth that their rent would more than double. Roth said he figured a way to sell more produce, bought more space and made the increased cost work. 

Roth said he’s looking forward to working in the new facility and said he and other wholesalers are hoping for the best.

At the 63-acre site, the main facility is being constructed on 48 acres with an additional 15-acre truck storage lot.

Rick Milavsky, vice president of BRS Produce Co., said that truck storage lot and other designs should bring improved transportation logistics.

“We will have a lot of room in the big building so people can park and trucks can maneuver better,” he said. “It’s a little difficult here when trucks try to back up to the dock with people walking out into the middle of the street.”

Parking areas separated from the truck loading areas, Milavsky said, should make it easier for trucks to load and unload.

A period of adjustment will likely be needed once distributors move into their new digs, said Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc.

“The new market will be a different concept from what we have here, which will be interesting,” he said. “The first couple of months will be very interesting and a little more challenging, but it will also be much more efficient for us.”

Penza said he thinks customers will not only find it easier to load their produce but should also find the new operation a safer surrounding.