If you visit the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market in coming weeks, you’ll notice upright concrete walls and a two-story, 85,000-square-foot building taking shape.
“It’s one thing for people to look at it as lines on a drawing, but seeing it go up, it’s a whole ‘nother thing,” said Mike Janis, market general manager.
But there’s other activity going on within the market that isn’t quite as apparent, such as expansion of Earl’s Organic Produce and VegiWorks Inc., he said.
Construction on the two-story building began in October and will ultimately include closed docks for improved food safety and cold-chain management. It also is designed to gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards — one of the top rankings for environmentally friendly construction.
Janis said he expected the building, valued in the low $20 millions, to be completed in October.
Although he couldn’t mention possible tenants, he did say, “We’re in pretty significant lease discussions with a number of companies.”
Expansion of the produce market has been six years in the works and wouldn’t have been possible if not for the commitment from the city and county of San Francisco, which owns the land, Janis said.
The city and county on Feb. 1, 2013 renewed the market’s lease for another 60 years.
With construction of the first expansion phase moving along, Janis said the market’s board of directors, which includes citizens and merchants, can begin working on the second phase.
That step will involve the market’s four main buildings, all built in 1963.
Discussions will no doubt involve whether it makes more sense to raze some or all of those buildings and rebuild them or gut existing structures, retrofitting them with more modern fixtures.
“We’ll be making those decisions based on the market place at that time,” Janis said. “It depends on what the merchants at that time want.
“We’re really going to be working closely with existing merchants and future merchants to make improvements that make sense for them at that time.”
Earl’s Organic Produce moved from its former 20,000-square-foot facility next door into a 30,000 square-foot one in January, said Patrick Stewart, director of operations.
The expansion also included the addition of three banana ripening rooms, something that Earl’s didn’t have before. The firm had had to outsource the process.
“Our customers always want the perfect colored banana, and you can’t give them that unless you’re controlling the entire process from beginning to end,” he said.
Not only does the new facility provide more square footage, but it also has higher ceilings, allowing pallets to be stacked three high compared to the double stacking in the old facility, Stewart said.
In addition, the new facility is about two-thirds coolers compared with only about 50% coolers in the old place, and administrative office space also was expanded by about 50%, he said.
Stewart attributed continued growth in the distributor’s core organic customer base for the expansion.
VegiWorks Inc. has moved in phases from its old 12,500-square-foot facility into Earl’s former 20,000-square-foot slot and will open in its new digs May 6, Janis said.