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Home Depot plans Klamath Falls store

A state economist says the I-5 interchange issue could be keeping Medford from getting its own store

Home Depot is preparing to build in Southern Oregon, but the world's largest home improvement company's 96,000 square-foot store is going up in Klamath Falls, not Jackson County.

Klamath County economic development representatives announced Wednesday that the Atlanta-based corporation, which reported net sales of $45.7 billion in fiscal 2000, will break ground on March 4.

The projected opening day for the store that caters to do-it-yourselfers, as well as home improvement, construction and building maintenance professionals, is Labor Day. It will be built on a 27.3 acre parcel adjacent to Big R on South Sixth Street. The nation's third-largest retailer expects to hire 150 full-time employees.

The announcement culminates four years of lobbying by the Klamath County Economic Development Corp. and Klamath County Chamber of Commerce.

Our research indicated two major areas of concern, said chamber executive director Stephanie Bailey. First was the overwhelming desire among residents, to have more retail and commercial business shopping opportunities. Second, was the reality that more than $200 million a year was being exported to neighboring cities including Medford and Bend. And that meant we needed to get serious and be proactive about commercial development.

Word leaked from Home Depot sources that the retailer was planning to build in Medford this year. But so far nothing has happened. Still at least one city official thinks the company will find its way here before long.

The fact they are building on the other side of the hill doesn't mean they aren't coming here, said Bill Hoke, Medford's economic development coordinator. I would have one in both towns if it was me. There's no reason why they wouldn't — we are separated by a mountain range.

A major factor that has stalled Home Depot's arrival in Jackson County has been its desire to locate near Interstate 5. Too many questions remain unanswered for a retailer to jump in to a multi-million dollar project.

When you look at the South Medford interchange, you realize that dog isn't going to hunt ?til the rerouting is done, said Bruce Laird, an economist with the Oregon Economic Development Department.

Wherever the store is situated, it's almost certain to create a lot of traffic.

I've seen the numbers and the traffic impact of a Home Depot is greater than a billion-dollar chip factory, Laird said. It's a huge impact, that's why it's so challenging when you think of all those customers.

Laird predicted little economic flow going east over the Cascades and noted that a substantial percentage of the shoppers from the Klamath area stop at several businesses when they come west.

Home Depot will probably ... have a lot more impact on locally owned hardware businesses in the Klamath Basin, Laird said. (Home Depot's) discounts are so large and it's those local businesses that are going to take the hit.

Air-quality regulations and a variety of Oregon Department of Transportation concerns have hampered Home Depot's desire to find a suitable site in the Medford market.

Hoke, however, discounted the notion that Home Depot has to have freeway visibility.

I can knock that one in the head, Hoke said, rattling off locations in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Santa Clara that are away from freeway flow.

Founded in 1978, Home Depot currently operates 1,332 stores in the United States. Home Depot anticipates opening 200 stores this year. It opened 17 stores on Feb. 7, the largest one-day store roll out in company history.

The 200 stores we will open this year is more stores than the company opened in its first 13 years, said Mike Folio, senior vice president of real estate. Today, we're opening a new store every 43 hours.

Reach reporter at 776-4463 or e-mail .