‘Gateway’ project begins with road closure

The Sun-Gazette

Walnut Ave. at Aviation Way will be closed for three weeks to extend sewer line to Sequoia Gateway Commercial Center at Hwy 99 & Caldwell

VISALIA – The first step in constructing the new home for Valley Children’s and Kaweah Delta along Highway 99 in Visalia begins next week.

Beginning Monday, Feb. 22, the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Aviation Way will be closed for three weeks in order to build a sanitary sewer main connecting the Sequoia Gateway Commerce Center, located at the southeast corner of Highway 99 and Caldwell Avenue, to the city’s sewer system. The closure will take place for both east and west bound Walnut Avenue between Shirk Street and Hanger Way at the intersection of Aviation Way through Friday, March 12. The entrance to Valley Oaks Golf Course will remain open via access from State Route 198 and Plaza Drive. The Visalia Animal Care Center will maintain access from Caldwell Avenue via Road 85.

These dates are subject to change pending weather or other unforeseen construction challenges. Any construction updates will be shared to the public via the City of Visalia web site at www.visalia.city and City social media channels @CityofVisalia.

Proposed by partners Fred Ruiz and Bill Travis, the highway commercial center would be built in phases over the next eight to 10 years and will include a Valley Children’s Medical Group Specialty Care Center.

Phase 1 of the project will total just under 13 acres and include a 60,000-square foot clinic for Valley Children’s Hospital and 22,950 square feet for two gas stations and four fast food restaurants. Phase 1 would also include nine electric vehicle charging stations. Phase 2 will include a total of 97 acres including 986,000 square feet in two additional fast food establishments as well as three hotels, three offices, two sit-down restaurants, a visitor center, and a 725,000-square foot regional retailer, such as Ikea, Bass Pro Shop, or even an online fulfillment center. Phase 2 would likely be built out in four sub-phases between 2021 and 2028. The remaining 12.9 acres would be used for a storm water basin and a potential waste water treatment plant along with roadway rights-of-way.

Developers have said that in its early stages, the Sequoia Gateway project could capture up to 15 percent of the $117 million in uncaptured highway commercial services locally, generating sales tax revenue and jobs.

Kaweah Delta announced it will join Valley Children’s Hospital, its long-term partner in providing care to children in its Neonatal Intensive Care and Pediatrics units, at the Sequoia Gateway development.

The hospital announced it will purchase land at the commercial center using a portion of the proceeds from its $5.49 million sale of 83 acres in southeast Visalia to the Visalia Unified School District in February 2019. Developers have also zoned the project to include a visitor center, gas stations, fast food restaurants, hotels, office space, and retail stores.

Kaweah Delta is evaluating which medical services will be developed at the location. The hope is that they will not only serve unmet patient needs, but help improve the financial stability of the organization, especially after the losses experienced during the pandemic.

While the Tulare County Board of Supervisors passed it unanimously and the Visalia City Council approved the project overwhelmingly, not every local official is on board with the project. Visalia City Councilmember Greg Collins attended the supervisor hearing on the project and criticized the highway commercial center as leap frog development. He said Valley Children’s would be better suited locating within the city of Visalia, Tulare, or somewhere in between the county’s population centers, such as Exeter or Lindsay.

Collins voted against an item on the city council’s Dec. 21, 2020 agenda granting an easement across to project developers to connect to the city’s sewer system by building a sewer line across the southern end of the Visalia Municipal Airport. He also voiced his displeasure with Kaweah Delta’s Dec. 14 announcement they would be purchasing land at the site for a future facility. He said he was disappointed Kaweah Delta was choosing to add a site outside in an unincorporated area that may benefit more highway travelers than Visalia residents.

“The reason I’m disappointed as Visalia and Kaweah Delta have had a long history of working together on projects that benefit both organizations by keeping the hospital downtown and keeping clinics downtown,” Collins said. “City of Visalia sold land to Kaweah Delta many years ago and Lifestyles, the psychiatric hospital and other facilities sit on that land today and they’ve been very successful.”

The motion passed 4-1, with Collins casting the lone dissenting vote. Collins reiterated his objection to the project at the Jan. 19 meeting when he pulled the second reading of the same item off the consent calendar to call for a roll call vote. Collins said he pulled the item “just to maintain consistency with my previous vote” before casting the lone no vote. The approval means Sequoia Gateway will pay the city $30,600 for the easement, which will be deposited into its enterprise fund for the airport.

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