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Potential occupants emerge for Walmart in Talent

Local organizations are checking out the Walmart store in Talent for possible use after it closes when the new Walmart Superstore opens in Medford next fall.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Rising Sun Farms and Brammo Motorsports have all eyed the 90,000-square-foot building on West Valley View Road just off Interstate 5 at exit 21.

City officials, economic development agencies and Walmart are working together to try to avoid having the site sit vacant for too long.

"We are working with the city to identify potential users for that building," said Belia Garcia, Walmart's Western U.S. media director. "Our real-estate division is aggressively marketing the building, as well."

Potential uses vary. OSF has a variety of space needs, including property storage, rehearsal areas and educational spaces.

"We are interested, but it is too early to talk about it," said OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson. "Nothing has been decided."

Rising Sun owner Elizabeth Fujas said the building could become a retail and processing center for the farm, but she would like to have other partners to help fill the space. She explored the idea several years ago when the closure was first announced.

"We could probably take about a third or more of that, maybe 40,000 square feet," said Fujas. "But it would be best to have another partner to fill up the empty space."

Rising Sun, which produces tortas, pesto, oils, dressings and other food products, is growing so quickly that it either needs to expand operating space or begin a second shift, said Fujas. The firm now has 35 employees and all operations are based at the farm, located at 5126 S. Pacific Highway.

Demand from Costco, Trader Joe's, Kroger and other distributors and retailers is increasing, she said.

Fujas earlier envisioned a center with several processors, space for sales of local produce, and perhaps wine tasting, entertainment and arts-and-crafts sales.

"It would take a lot of energy," said Fujas. "Finding someone to spearhead the whole process would be a good idea. I just haven't taken the energy to think about doing that."

Brammo, which designs and sells electric motorcycles, is always looking at vacant buildings for possible expansion, according to its leader.

President Craig Bramscher was out of town and unavailable for comment, but he earlier told local broadcast media the site is in a good location next to the interstate for shipping and receiving. He noted it is good sized, with lots of parking and loading docks.

Rumors that surfaced several weeks ago about the owners of Sherm's Thunderbird and Food 4 Less being interested in the site were unfounded. Co-owner Steve Olsrud said the company is not looking to expand at this time.

A city committee formed to develop ideas about how the site might be used has met with representatives from Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. and Business Oregon, the state's development agency.

"We do both expansion efforts and reaching out to (national) site consultants who may represent a number of clients," said Colleen Padilla, SOREDI business development manager.

"Our focus will be on jobs and higher-wage jobs that are compatible for the zoning," said Padilla. "It might be suitable for a manufacturer or a call center."

Talent City Planner Mark Knox, a member of the committee, said he was encouraged by the meeting discussions and Walmart's efforts.

"I've had multiple conversations with Walmart representatives, and they have been very encouraging and understanding of our needs and really helpful," he said.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.