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Work has begun on 26-acre site for new Supercenter
Supercenter site work
Workers were clearing unwanted trees and vegetations on the 26-acre site for the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center just south of Don Pedro Road. Walmart is building a new Supercenter at Service and Mitchell roads after 13 years of delays caused by opponents of the project/ - photo by Jeff Benziger

Black vinyl screening material is shrouding the 26-acre work site which will become the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center but what cannot be seen is site preparation work.

The contractor hired by the Walmart Corporation has begun the process, which could take up to a year, of opening its new Walmart Supercenter store. On Tuesday a large piece of equipment was clearing tree vegetation from the northwest section of the site in preparation for grading.

Only the Supercenter itself is currently proposed for construction. Now that construction has started, the 185,682-square-foot Supercenter could be open by this time next year or sooner, City Manager Tom Westbrook estimated.

The Supercenter is the anchor of the shopping center at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. The Supercenter is first element of the 304,000-square-foot retail center. The Supercenter will occupy about 185,682 square feet as the anchor with approximately 36,167 square feet devoted to grocery sales.

The company is not expected to hold a groundbreaking ceremony, preferring instead to celebrate when the doors open in 2021.

Besides the Walmart Supercenter, plans call for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a standalone retail building and two to three new restaurants.

The city expects the remainder of the center to develop as companies express interest in leases. In the past Applebee’s has expressed interest in locating in the center.

Once the Supercenter is finished the Walmart at Hatch and Mitchell roads will be closed and marketed for another use. City officials expect the building to be offered for non-competing businesses, possibly split into two or more spaces.

Once the new store opens in 2021, Walmart and the city expect to have conversations about what use can fill the store at Hatch and Mitchell roads which will be abandoned.

“I believe they have some marketing folks that they’ve worked with in past jurisdictions to kind of help dispose of those properties either through a long-term lease or sale but they won’t start that process until they’re actually conducting operations at the new location,” said Westbrook.

Owners of adjacent empty parcels have been anxiously awaiting the development of Mitchell Ranch since it will serve as a magnet for development of their properties. Earlier this year the city approved the 13.65-acre site Ceres Gateway Center commercial project to the south of the Supercenter. Business interested in coming to that development include In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, Panda Express and Circle K. Genesis Family Enterprises won approvals for the subdivision into eight parcels. Located in the triangle-shaped land at the southwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads, the project involves the construction of nine commercial buildings totaling 53,863 square feet, a convenience store with a gas station and carwash and an 85-foot tall freestanding pylon sign.

The Gateway project is expected to have a grand opening in 2021.

Mitchell Ranch was plagued with nearly 13 years of delays because of a group that fought the project every step of the way using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and lawsuits as a tool. When the Ceres City Council approved the project in 2011, a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres and attorney Brett Jolley held up the project with a lawsuit and asking the Stanislaus County Superior Court to invalidate the project approvals including the environmental impact report (EIR). At the time the lawsuit was filed – which was later dismissed by the court – then Walmart Senior Manager of Public Affairs & Government Relations Amelia Neufeld expressed disappointment, saying: “On behalf of our customers and more than 10,000 Ceres-area supporters, we are disappointed to learn that this action was taken. This new Ceres Walmart store and shopping center project underwent years of countless studies and numerous public hearings where a full vetting of every issue was completed. In a time of double-digit unemployment, this project promises more than 200 new jobs, increased sales tax revenues and economic growth for the city of Ceres. It’s unfortunate that some continue to seek unnecessary delays to deny this much-needed and wanted project for the community.”

The project faced extensive environmental review for years, and was scrutinized at multiple public hearings. Then the senior planner, Westbrook expressed more than once his complete confidence in the thoroughness of the EIR. He said the process took so long because the city was careful to cover all issues to comply with CEQA. In April 2011, attorney Miriam Montesinos argued that the project faced considerable review “forwards and backwards” since it was first proposed by Regency Centers of Florida in 2007.

Mitchell Ranch from drone
A bird’s eye view of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center construction site at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. A drone was required to see over the black screen.