VA Clinic marches to Visalia

Veterans Affairs Clinic in Tulare County will relocate from Tulare medical offices to former Buckman-Mitchell Insurance office in downtown Visalia

VISALIA – The Veterans Affairs Clinic will be staying in Tulare County but is rolling out to Visalia.

A preliminary plan recently filed with the City of Visalia would relocate the Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic from the Tulare medical office park to downtown Visalia. In the plans, developer Josh Hausman of CBOC Visalia LLC has identified the location of the clinic as 500 N. Santa Fe St., the former Buckman Mitchell Insurance headquarters, now staffed by Chicago-based Gallagher Insurance. The two-story building would house a 32,000 square foot VA clinic more than four times larger than the current clinic located at 1050 N. Cherry St. in Tulare.

“It’s a done deal,” Gallagher Visalia CEO Cliff Dunbar said. “The developer bought our building and we closed escrow last week.”

The operational statement included in the Site Plan Review says the larger clinic would expand services to include mental health, optometry, podiatry, audiology, physical therapy, infusion, tele-health and others to veterans in Tulare and Kings Counties. California Veterans Affairs estimates there are nearly 30,000 vets in Tulare and Kings Counties as of 2022.

The facility is expected to employ 45 to 53 workers with support from VA facilities in Fresno. Converting the insurance office building into a medical clinic is estimated at $2 million, according to the operational statement. 

The VA has been looking for a spot for an expanded clinic for several years. Last summer, the VA began requesting proposals to build a new 20,000- to 25,000-square foot clinic in Tulare County 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.

Now it appears Visalia will get the massive influx of new medical patients in the greater Downtown area where Kaweah Health and Family Healthcare Network each have a large presence. Still, building a clinic for the VA is a competitive process and there may be other developers in the running proposing another location. None has been made public but a Tulare developer has been talking about a location for a new VA building near the outlet mall.

The deal is a win for Gallagher, downtown Visalia and Dunbar himself. Gallagher bought 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. 

Dunbar said Gallagher Visalia’s employees will relocate to another building in downtown, which he said he was not ready to divulge, but would bring the former Buckman Mitchell Insurance staff back to Main Street where it was located for much of its history in Visalia. Buckman Mitchell 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. Dunbar said his staff should complete the move by Dec. 1, 2022 if all of the permitting remains on track for the remodel of the Santa Fe building. 

“We are very excited to be back on Main Street again,” Dunbar said. “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.

Many professional offices have transitioned to more remote work since the pandemic began. The change left many large office building property owners with surplus space. A recent Wall Street Journal article made the point that the surplus started years ago with the change in tax law incentives allowing property to be written off more quickly. Office vacancy rates in large cities around the US have been some of the hardest hit recently including Chicago where Gallagher is headquartered. The worst four office markets in terms of availability rates are Chicago Suburban (31.7%), Houston (30.5%), Dallas-Fort Worth (30.9%), and San Francisco (26.8%), according to data from Savills, a national commercial real estate advisory firm.

“With the way the working environment is now, we are using a hybrid schedule,” Dunbar said. “And right now we have more than we need.”

Traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Gallagher is one the largest insurance brokers in the world with more than 39,000 employees providing services in more than 130 countries. The company’s net income was up nearly 50% and its stock near a 52-week high in its latest quarter.

-Reggie Ellis contributed to this report.

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