PHILADELPHIA — Produce wholesalers in the Liberty City are preparing to move to a modern distribution facility that they say will serve as a model for future terminal markets.

Philadelphia distributors ready to move to new market

Doug Ohlemeier

As Philadelphia produce distributors prepare to relocate their operations into a larger and modern distribution warehouse, market wholesalers say there is considerable excitement for the move in the city of brotherly love. Market officials say construction remains on schedule and expect wholesalers to move out of their antiquated buildings in October or by early November.

After spending most of the past decade trying to move to better digs, Philadelphia Regional Produce Market companies are closer to their goal, with about 500 workers in mid-July finishing construction on the new facility, on Essington Ave. southwest of the current market.

Market officials say construction remains on schedule and wholesalers can move out of their antiquated buildings in October or early November.

“There is unbelievable excitement in this city,” said Richard Nardella, chief executive and financial officer of Nardella Inc. “Everyone is ready. We cannot say enough about the new market. We can’t wait to move there.”

In 2003, Nardella and Jimmy Storey, president of the terminal association and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co., started the long and complicated process of seeking a new terminal market.

A large skylight provides natural lighting and an open market feel for a central area, and flags will fly over storefront display racks and sales areas.

With centralized computer-controlled refrigerator box temperature zones, the building will become the largest fully enclosed and fully refrigerated U.S. terminal market, said Dan Kane, the market’s assistant manager.

The $218.5 million plant will store produce in 550,000 square feet of coolers inside a 667,000-square-foot building.

Philadelphia distributors ready to move to new market

Doug Ohlemeier

Dan Kane, assistant manager of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, at the site of the city’s new produce terminal market, which is scheduled to open in the fall. Since 2003, market wholesalers have fought to relocate operations out of a congested and aging facility on the city’s south side.

The 48-acre site is twice the size of the current market at the corner of Columbus Blvd. and Oregon Ave. in south Philadelphia. Produce arrives through 234 dock doors into a building that will maintain a 50-degree internal temperature, Kane said.

After selling produce during an early July week of 100-plue-degree temperatures, Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc. and a member of the terminal’s marketing committee, said the move to a refrigerated warehouse should help improve distribution.

“The quality of our product should be better,” Penza said. “During the heat wave, we wished we were in a 100% refrigerated facility. The product can’t sit outside of the store for a long time before it begins to show damage.”

Kane has been giving tours of the new facility to market managers and distributors from New York, Houston and San Francisco.

“They are floored and amazed at how huge this building is,” he said. “This is an encouragement for other cities that are undergoing the same process.”

In the new building, which has no vacancies, the layout of the 68 tenant units will be the same as in the current market, but the stalls are larger, Kane said.

Among many features, motion sensors will activate cooler lights to help save energy in the three-high and two-deep refrigerated racks that feature twice as many pallet positions, Kane said.

Distributor stockholders are financing construction through a combination of state and federal grants and low-interest loans.