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December 3, 2008 > State-of-the-Art distribution center planned

State-of-the-Art distribution center planned

By Simon Wong

Union City's largest employer, Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc (SWS), appeared before the Planning Commission on November 6 and before the City Council on November 25 to seek approval to develop a new warehouse facility at 1555 Atlantic Street.

SWS is the largest distributor of wines and spirits in the US. In 1988, its Northern California operations relocated from San Leandro to Union City where they spread across three sites - an existing 180,000 sq. ft. warehouse/distribution facility at 1555 Atlantic Street, headquarters at 33321 Dowe Avenue with 300,000 sq. ft. of warehouse/distribution and office space and 288,000 sq. ft. of leased warehouse/distribution space at 33021 Dowe Avenue.

The company, whose Union City operations generated more than $1 billion in sales in 2007, has 1,150 local employees and wishes to consolidate its warehouse/distribution operations into a single 800,000 sq. ft. facility that will also accommodate future growth. Union City has a shortage of industrial land; consequently, SWS looked elsewhere for a site on which to erect a building with such a large footprint.

Recognizing the importance of the company's local presence, the Economic & Community Development Department worked closely with SWS to find a solution. Following a review of the Union City General Plan, originally certified in February 2002, it was deemed appropriate to introduce zoning text amendments to ordinances that would update the General Plan's goals and policies, viz. higher density development for light industry and the needs of businesses, almost seven years later.

The "Allowable Height" has been increased from fifty feet to seventy-five feet subject to Use Permit Approval in Light Industrial (ML) Zoning Districts. A maximum twenty-five percent reduction in Required Off-Street Parking in ML Zoning Districts Subject to Implementation of Transit Demand Management (TDM) Programs will be permitted.

SWS will replace the existing thirty-four year old structure at 1555 Atlantic Street, a 15.23 acre site, with a new 402,000 sq. ft. building that will be the largest in the City's history. Office space will remain at 33321 Dowe Avenue.

The new building, whose 9.2 acre footprint is almost half the size of what was originally sought, will house high-pile storage racking and a state-of-the-art, automated storage, tracking and retrieval system to manage inventory. Increasing the facility's height to seventy-five feet has provided the required storage space.

The first forty-five feet will consist of a concrete tilt-up structure with faux-office facades on the east and west corners visible from Atlantic Street and recesses for aesthetic purposes. Some office space will be located in the rear of the building. Other features will be applied to break up the massing of the elevations, such as a stucco-like finish and a two-tone color scheme. Fins, clad in metallic Alucabond, will articulate the corners. Removable, architectural metal panels will be installed on the remaining thirty feet to provide contrast in color and building materials. The design, intentionally flexible, specifically satisfies SWS's needs but the metal panels can be removed and a roof installed on top of the concrete portion should the site be sold in the future. "Green Building" standards will be incorporated where possible.

There will be two shifts at the plant. A maximum of 191 employees will be present from 6.00 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. and 104 employees between 7.30 p.m. and 5.30 a.m.

The building's footprint means 637 parking spaces are required but SWS has requested that 191 parking spaces be allowed to meet actual demand (one per employee). SWS has demonstrated how 646 parking bays can be provided on-site for a future occupant by using spaces that have been reserved for truck-parking and a large rear yard with a flexible layout.

Moreover, SWS's own survey shows that twenty-four of the 191 employees carpool and two use public transit. This results in thirteen vacant parking spaces.

TDM strategies to reduce parking demand will be implemented. Showers and lockers will be installed to encourage people to cycle or walk to work. SWS is working with other Union City businesses to develop a shuttle service between BART and their respective locations.

SWS will be required to pay a Public Art in-lieu fee of $370,000. This is one percent of the estimated cost of the project or building permit valuation. The City's Public Art Board agreed to waive installation of public art at 1555 Atlantic Street because the facility is closed to the public, the site is physically constrained by the planned development and most visitors will be present on business.

SWS's decision to remain in the City means job retention, sales tax revenue and higher property taxes based on the values of the land, building and tenant improvements. Initial estimates suggest that the land is valued at $37 million and the new building at $20 million.

"To say that something is static is a complete falsehood. Everything changes. Change is not confined to one part of the City. All parts of the City change. This process of increasing density is something that is happening not just in Union City but all over the Bay Area... this is a positive step for Union City and the association with Southern Wine & Spirits is one that we wish to see continue," stated Mayor Mark Green.

"I'd like to thank Southern Wine & Spirits for staying in Union City and I'd certainly like to thank Staff because it's a challenge to reach consensus and work together to make this happen. Thank you very much," concluded Councillor Carol Dutra-Vernaci, addressing Larry Chaplin, VP, Southern Wine & Spirits, Mark Leonard, Economic & Community Development Director and Carmela Campbell, Senior Planner.

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