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Fleet Farm taking shape in Hermantown

Site work for the new 183,000-square-foot Mills Fleet Farm store in Hermantown continued in earnest this past week. By the time the preparations are complete, an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of material will have been moved. Fleet Farm Vice Pres...

Future Fleet Farm site in Hermantown
Workers erect part of a new structure at the site of the future Fleet Farm in Hermantown while excavators work in the background last week. In all, Mills Fleet Farm is expected to pour about $18 million into its latest project. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)
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Site work for the new 183,000-square-foot Mills Fleet Farm store in Hermantown continued in earnest this past week.
By the time the preparations are complete, an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of material will have been moved. Fleet Farm Vice President Stewart Mills III said he expects the store’s precast concrete walls to be tilted into place and reinforced with steel in the next week or two.
“It’s imperative we get the store enclosed before winter, and fortunately, we’ve been able to stay on schedule so far,” Mills said.
He said he hopes to open the new Hermantown store by late summer or the early fall of next year. It will be the 36th retail outlet in the Brainerd-based chain. Mills Fleet Farm most recently opened a store this March in Mankato, Minn. The company now boasts stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota.
“We are definitely in a growth spurt,” Mills said, pointing to the recent investments in Hermantown and Mankato.
While Mills Fleet Farm continues to consider other potential locations, Mills said no other projects are actively in the works at present.
“I think right now, we’re probably going to have to step back and look at some of our infrastructure - our logistics and our warehousing. Because we have been building stores that have been successful, it has put a strain on our logistics, so we’re going to have to take a look at how we can best serve the stores we already have,” he said.
Mills said his father has long had his eye on the Duluth market.
“Since I was a little kid, we’ve been talking off and on about getting up into the Duluth/Hermantown/Cloquet area, and it was just perfect timing that we were finally in a position to do something and that property in Hermantown came up for sale, and both St. Louis County and the city of Hermantown have been tremendous partners in getting this done,” he said.
“It was perfect timing, but we’ve been looking for this perfect timing for at least a couple of decades now,” Mills said.
He said he expects the new store will get off to a strong start.
“We’re really excited not only to be in Hermantown, which has been a great partner, but also to be right down the road from the Iron Range,” Mills said. “We know that a lot of our customers are going to be coming off of those Iron Range cities, and our store is built exactly for that customer,” Mills said, noting that ZIP code information the chain collects already indicates a number of Range customers are traveling to shop its inventory at other stores.
Mills said Fleet Farm stores typically draw customers from a greater distance than chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Menards or Lowe’s. He said that one of the company’s key competitive advantages has been its aggressive low-cost pricing.
$18 million project

In all, Mills Fleet Farm is expected to pour about $18 million into its latest project, according to Adam Fulton, Hermantown’s community development director.
The 38½-acre site for the new store is off Loberg Road, just south of Hom Furniture and west of Sam’s Club. The new retailer’s parking lot will accommodate 619 vehicles.
Fulton said the project will lead to the redevelopment of an abandoned gravel pit that occasionally had attracted unauthorized dumping. He credited Mills Fleet Farm for returning the property to a productive use.
“They had to come in and do some mitigation on the site, and it should reduce what had been sort of the nuisance character of the property,” Fulton said.
Another fringe benefit of the project will be the reconstruction of Westberg Road, a street that Fulton said has been failing for the past decade. He explained that the road previously was paved but never was constructed to city standards.
“They’ve been willing to really step up and help us, in terms of upgrading that road,” Fulton said.
Fulton predicts the investment Mills Fleet Farm is making in Hermantown will prove to be money well spent.
“It’s one of the last really good big-box sites that we’ve got, but it needed to be revitalized,” he said.
As part of the project, a new roadway dubbed Market Street will be installed, connecting Mall Drive and Loberg Road with Westberg Road on the north side of the new store. Plans call for a traffic light to be installed at Loberg Road and Market Street.
A new Holiday Inn Express & Suites also is going in across from the new Fleet Farm on the opposite side of Loberg Road. Fulton said the flurry of construction activity has spurred interest on the part of other developers, too.
“We’ve been receiving lots of inquiries about that area of town. We think it’s going to be a vibrant place that’s very attractive because it’s close to transportation services and recreational amenities,” he said.
Fulton expressed thanks for the assistance St. Louis County has offered for the project. The county is providing $400,000 in tax abatement to help encourage the development.
For its part, the city of Hermantown has agreed to provide about $900,000 of support to pay for public infrastructure, including water service improvements.
The project will include a main retail store, a fuel station and an automated three-bay car wash.

Related Topics: HERMANTOWN
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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