The towering blue metal rack rising from Horn Rapids Industrial Park in Richland will become part of North America's largest public refrigerated warehouse when the multimillion-dollar project is completed next summer.
Tri-City officials say the facility will make the regional food processing industry more competitive.
Preferred Freezer Services' facility is pegged to cover 455,000 square feet, almost the size of eight football fields. It will stand about 120 feet tall, or around 10 stories. The freezer storage section alone should cover 313,000 square feet.
The facility was valued at $69.1 million on its building permit, but Preferred Freezer Services President Brian Beattie estimates the project at more than $100 million. Ground was broken May 12.
"One, this is going to be the largest public refrigerated warehouse in North America," Beattie said. "Secondly, it will be automated in the freezer."
The building should be complete by July 2015, said R.J. Burton, vice president of Indianapolis-based Victory Unlimited, the construction contractor.
The facility should support more than 100 jobs once complete, Beattie said. It will be owned by investors, but managed and operated by Preferred Freezer Services and Chill Build, an Indianapolis company partnering with Preferred Freezer Services, which is based in New Jersey, Beattie said.
A city-built dirt road -- Polar Way -- leads to the project off Kingsgate Way. About 200 construction workers and contractors will work on site daily through the majority of the building phase, Burton said. What those workers leave behind will unique to the region.
"The Tri-Cities hasn't seen anything like this before," said Rick Simon, Richland's permit and development services manager.
Being a "public" refrigerated warehouse means the facility will hold frozen goods for many companies, instead of just one.
"This isn't a manufacturing facility," Beattie said. "It's a distribution facility. ... We would provide the opportunity for suppliers, manufacturers, importers or exporters to store their goods with other companies."
Several businesses already have expressed interest in using the facility, Beattie said. He declined to name them or say how much space already has been reserved.
The single blue rack now towering more than 100 feet above the construction site will be duplicated many times over during the next eight months until a domino-like row of racks stands in the industrial park. The racks will form not just the storage area, but the skeletal framework of the building.
"It's an exciting project," Beattie said. "It's new and different."
Beattie especially is excited about the facility's automation. Traditional refrigerated warehouses rely on human-operated cranes to move pallets from storage to shipping and vice versa. Preferred Freezer Service's facility will utilize robotic cranes. Items will be stored and moved in pre-determined unit loads.
"Automation doesn't work for everything, but we think with this situation, it's right for automation," he said.
The facility is being built near an existing railroad spur. Additional siding and passing tracks are being built, said Richland Deputy City Manager Bill King. Trains will pull alongside the building and connect to rail docks and doors. It should be able to accommodate up to 50 rail cars each day in addition to loads shipped by truck.
BNSF Railway and Tri-City and Olympia Railroad will handle shipping, said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.
The project's journey from concept to construction has taken years.
In late 2011, ConAgra Lamb Weston swapped 8.6 acres of land at Columbia Point for 80 acres of land in the Horn Rapids Industrial Park with plans to build a $35 million automated frozen food warehouse. In February, Lamb Weston assigned the purchase agreement for the land in Horn Rapids Industrial Park to Chill Build, which completed the purchase with the city of Richland and became sole owner, Lamb Weston spokeswoman Shelby Stoolman said.
"It should have a very positive benefit for the community," King said. "This is definitely going to be a state-of-the-art facility. We'd be at a disadvantage if we didn't have it."
The Preferred Freezer Service project will create additional storage space and fuel the Tri-Cities' agricultural reputation, Adrian said.
"If people see continuing investment in the market, it's kind of like car dealers and fast food restaurants -- people say, 'I want to be there too'," he said. "It portrays a thriving agriculture community and agriculture business."
Construction progress can be tracked online via two webcams at bit.ly/1qH0Y24.
-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org