VA officially deploys larger clinic in Visalia

Visalia Planning Commission approves permit for Veterans Affairs to open a new clinic in the former Buckman Mitchell Insurance building in downtown

VISALIA – A new VA clinic in Visalia is now marching toward its goal of having a larger facility to serve more veterans.

At its Jan. 23 meeting, the Visalia Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a new Veterans Affairs clinic to be located in the former Buckman Mitchell Insurance office, now part of Chicago-based Gallagher Insurance. The site, 500 N Santa Fe St. in Visalia, will replace the current VA community-based outpatient clinic in Tulare and expand primary care and specialty services to local military veterans. The clinic will take up 25,000 square feet of the 32,000 square foot building.

The two-story clinic will offer services including mental health, optometry, podiatry, audiology, physical therapy, logistics and administrative functions supported by the main VA campus in Fresno. The site will have a variety of exam rooms, procedure rooms, audiology and speech consultation rooms, an x-ray room and radiographic ultrasound room, where primary care and specialty services may be completed. This new, larger location will allow the VA to serve 20% more veterans than the current clinic because it is closer for veterans living in Fresno and Kings Counties. The clinic is expected to see as many as 95 veterans daily.

Initially, the VA clinic anticipates 45 employees, which could potentially increase to 53 employees in five years. The proposed hours of operation for the medical office are from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

The only drawback to the site was that it only had 120 of the 152 parking spaces required for the square footage. The planning commission approved the project because in-lieu parking fees had already been paid for 52 stalls, well over the 32 needed to meet the requirement. 

The VA has been looking for a spot for an expanded clinic for several years. The VA began requesting proposals to build a new 20,000- to 25,000-square foot clinic in Tulare County midway through 2021 to expand services offered at its current site in Tulare, which is less than 8,000 square feet. The decision was supposed to be made in August 2021, but had to be extended due to the lack of viable proposals. The VA also made it clear it was not interested in constructing a new building due to the cost.

Tulare city and hospital officials were vocal about their hope to keep the clinic in Tulare. The Tulare Local Health Care District even considered the idea of leasing a portion of the 55,000-square foot Evolutions Plaza, which the hospital district owns. The notion was shot down at the hospital district’s special meeting on July 14, 2021 after being criticized by local residents who wanted to retain their gym and the company which manages the property, the gym and other tenants, Evo Management Company, LLC.

A Victory for Visalia

Gallagher Visalia CEO Cliff Dunbar said the deal is a win for Gallagher, downtown Visalia and himself. Gallagher bought Buckman Mitchell Insurance (BMI) in 2018 when the insurance giant also purchased 15 other small brokerages around the country. In Visalia, they also bought out the Lewis & Associates Insurance business. Gallagher retained 71 of BMI’s 80 employees after the purchase, according to an article in The Sun-Gazette. 

Gallagher Visalia has relocated operations from Santa Fe Street to the former Suncrest Bank building at 501 W Main St. in downtown Visalia. Suncrest no longer needed the building after its merger early last year with Citizens Business Bank, which already had an office in Visalia.

Dunbar said he was excited to bring the former BMI staff back to Main Street where it was located for much of the company’s history. Buckman Mitchell originally moved out to the building on Santa Fe in 2007 to support the city’s vision for developing east downtown. This new move will help improve some of the recent vacancies in downtown by filling a prominent building on Main Street. 

“We are very excited to be back on Main Street again,” Dunbar told The Sun-Gazette in September. “We will fill up our building with something very nice for Visalia, and veterans, we get to go back to our roots on Main Street.”

Dunbar said he was happy to give up Gallagher’s current home in exchange for bringing more veterans services to the city. His family’s history of military service dates back to the Civil War, fighting for the Union Army in Massachusetts. His mother’s father served in the U.S. Army in World War I. Both of his parents were in the U.S. Navy in World War II and actually met at a USO dance. His son-in-law is currently an Army Ranger who did eight tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It really makes me feel good to see this going to use for veterans,” Dunbar said.

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