Local officials close door on IKEA rumor

Visalia, Tulare County officials say IKEA is not planning to build a store at Caldwell and Highway 99 despite media reports

VISALIA – Shortly after news broke Great Wolf Lodge will not move forward with plans to build a waterpark resort here, Tulare County lost another major employer, IKEA, because it was never actually happening.

The Visalia Times-Delta reported on Feb. 27 that the furniture giant was expected to build near the Sequoia Gateway Commerce project at Caldwell Avenue and Highway 99. The article was actually centered around Great Wolf’s decision to withdraw their project to build a 500-plus room resort and indoor waterpark at the center.

The article went a step further by offering a consolation that despite the loss of Great Wolf, an “IKEA is also expected to build near the center.” The information was then picked up and repeated by other local news sources, including GV Wire. The article cited city of Visalia officials as the source of the information but Mayor Brian Poochigian said the city made no such claims.

“We haven’t even heard a whisper,” Poochigian said about an IKEA possibly locating near the city. “We have never heard anything like that.”

The city and county of Tulare were working together on the project to land Great Wolf at the site. After the article, the Tulare County Economic Development department said the rumor was bogus in a post on its Facebook page.

“While Tulare County would certainly welcome an IKEA store, there have been no discussions between the County and IKEA representatives. A newspaper article stated an IKEA was coming to the Sequoia Gateway development project that is located at SR 99 and Caldwell Ave, west of the City of Visalia.  Subsequently, other news media picked up the story without first fact-checking, and now the story has spread to social media. Although the developer is not currently talking with IKEA, the county continues to work to secure quality tenants within the Sequoia Gateway project,” the post read.

Great Wolf decided to pull out its deal to buy 35 acres for its resort earlier this month. In a Feb. 24 email to The Sun-Gazette, Jason Lasecki, corporate communications director for Great Wolf, said the company’s decision to pull out of the project in Tulare County was to focus on other sites already under construction.

“As we look to expand the Great Wolf Lodge experience to more families, our current priorities are to continue investing in our existing resorts, successfully open the resorts currently under construction and pursue growth in areas most under-served by Great Wolf Lodge,” Lasecki said in the statement.

Tulare County Economic Development Director Mike Washam confirmed Great Wolf’s decision to pull out of the project in a Feb. 24 interview with The Sun-Gazette. He said the timing of Great Wolf’s decision had more to do with an opportunity for the developer to sell the land to someone else. Washam said there is another developer interested in purchasing the entire 35 acres so the project could end on good terms for all involved.

Washam went on to say Great Wolf already had five parks under construction and had concerns about the cost of construction materials, high interest rates and a labor shortage. He said the company did not say if the project would still be viable if it had moved faster through the design and planning phase.

The last major pre-construction item was to finalize a sewer agreement between Great Wolf, the developer and the City of Visalia. Unfortunately, some of the company’s other projects were progressing faster through the pre-construction process and the agreement was not complete by the time another offer was made on the land.

“We are extremely appreciative of both Tulare County and the City of Visalia for their partnership throughout this exploration process,” Lasecki said.

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