Tulare growth signals strong economy

2018 was a strong growth year for Tulare, and all indicators signal more of the same to come in 2019, with upticks in the housing, retail and commercial sectors pointing toward good economic times ahead.

Slow and Steady

Things are going so well, in fact, the city may soon have to widen its boundaries, adding new land for additional construction, said Traci Myers, deputy director of Community and Economic Development. In 2018, the city issued 341 permits for new single-family homes, a jump of nearly 10% from the previous year. Those permits translate into more than 340,000 square feet of living space.

While those numbers don’t rival those of the pre-recession boom of the early 2000s, Myers says they represent a more reliable growth period to come.

“I think it’s significant when you see what we were at during the recession,” she said. “It’s a good thing, because you don’t want to see a huge jump. Slow and steady growth is indicative of a good economy.”

Large increases in the annual number of building permits, such as those seen prior to the 2008 crash of the housing market, are a warning sign, Myers said, with greater growth perhaps signaling another recession on the horizon. The numbers the city is seeing now likely herald reliable, healthy growth.

“For Tulare, getting into the 300s and maybe the 400s, shows a good, sustainable market,” Myers said of the number of single-family permits issued each year.

A Bigger City

If these numbers do continue, and Myers believes they will, then Tulare could soon need to widen the city limits to include more buildable land.

“At this point we’re looking at annexations because our supply is running out,” she said. “We’ve got a couple annexations that are already underway. There’s 17 acres south of Bardsley and east of Mooney. The other one we have ongoing right now is commercial. It’s about 240 acres at Cartmill (Avenue) and (Highway) 99.”

In 2018, the city also issued 30 permits for multi-family housing construction, representing about 120 new units in apartments and condos. Ginder Development, a builder with similar projects in Visalia and Fresno, is continuing construction of 168 new apartments on Hillman Street, and the Tulare County Housing Authority is constructing 10 low-income multi-family units at Sacramento Street and Inyo Avenue.

“If those build out, we’re running out of supply,” Myers said of the currently planned annexations.

For the growth to continue, the city will have to take in even more new land for construction.

“It’s kind of cut-and-dry,” Myers said. “You’ve got this many acres. Then what do you do?”

Shopping Opportunities

New housing isn’t the only sign Tulare is seeing an economic upswing.

“The other thing that we saw was the infill at commercial spots,” Myers said. “There’s the backfill of the Mervin’s and the backfill of the vacant KMart.”

The former Mervin’s building now houses Harbor Freight Salvage Tools and a Dollar Tree, while KMart’s one-time home is occupied by Ross Dress for Less and dd’s discounts. At the Smart and Final shopping center on Prosperity Avenue, Turner’s Outdoorsman has opened its doors, and Habit Burger has replaced the Long John Silver’s.

“They actually knocked it down and built a brand-new building,” Myers said.

The city has also approved another truck stop, a Pilot Flying J at Paige Avenue on Highway 99. Construction there has already started.

“They want to be open in May. They’re going like gangbusters out there,” Myers said. “That’s huge for the city for sales tax generation.”

The city’s other truck stop, Love’s, is also “definitely a top sales tax generator,” she said. The two truck stops should not find themselves competing too directly, due to fleet sales of fuel, though they will be vying for the business of passing motorists.

“There was some concern they’re going to cannibalize each other, but I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Myers said.

New Life Downtown

In what could be a major turning point for Tulare’s downtown business district, the Linder Building has finally been sold. The new owner is the Visalia-based Radiant Church.

“They’re going to have the meeting space for their church. Then they anticipate having a coffee shop. They saw this building as an opportunity,” Myers said.

This is not Radiant’s first foray into building development. In Visalia, Radiant purchased and remodeled the Planing Mill Building. Their success there has many in Tulare hoping to see a new vitality downtown.

“A lot of old-school people here think if someone can revitalize it (the Linder Building), it will turn downtown around,” Myers said.

That seems to already be happening, with the EJ Ryan Building next door also getting a makeover and new businesses, including an escape room and martial arts studio. A new Starbucks Coffee has opened at Cross and J Street, and Wayback Burger is a new addition downtown.

Additionally, a four-unit residential project is underway near the library at M Street and San Joaquin Avenue.

Thriving Industry

Tulare can also boast of two new major industrial developments.

CNS Steel has decided to relocate to the city’s industrial park, doubling the size of their facility in a two-phase construction that will result in 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Myers sees the decision to expand as a boon for Tulare.

“We’re lucky he didn’t decide to move out of the area,” Myers said. “He decided to stay here and reinvest.”

Another local business, Hydraulic Controls, is also set to expand on Blackstone Avenue, and the city can expect to see a variety of both residential and commercial development at Cartmill Avenue at Highway 99. Two separate developers have plans to build various business and multi-family residences in the area, and they have strong backing from the city council.

“This council’s really wanting to be aggressive and get some retail attraction there,” Myers said.

Meanwhile, Myers, the council and the city’s other business boosters are working to attract yet more new businesses to town. A new Jack-in-the-Box restaurant is a likelihood, as is a Planet Fitness gymnasium, and the city is “working with” Aldi–an international developer of grocery stories and the parent company Trader Joe’s–to bring the city another supermarket.

While Myers said such negotiations “can take years,” she’s confident they’ll find Tulare a good fit for their plans to expand.

“It’s just persistence and keeping up with it and showing them the benefit of the community,” she said.

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