Development of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center at Service and Mitchell roads was stymied for 14 years because of a myriad of anti-Walmart lawsuit roadblocks. But with nothing standing in its way, the neighboring Ceres Gateway Center is ready to get underway after approval came last year.

On July 26 the Ceres City Council approved the off-site improvements required before work on the site itself can take place. The council also approved the shopping center’s final map on the triangle-shaped property bordered by Highway 99, Service Road and Mitchell Road.

The developer is funding the cost of public improvements, such as a new traffic signal, engineering, inspection, fees and incidental expenses that are expected to cost $1.048 million. In the rare event that the work is not completed a letter of credit has been secured by the Ceres Gateway Center.

In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, Panda Express and Circle K are among the businesses interested in the Ceres Gateway Center commercial project approved by the Planning Commission in February 2020. Genesis Family Enterprises won approval of a final map to subdivide the 13.65-acre site into eight parcels for the construction of nine commercial buildings totaling 53,863 square feet, a convenience store with a gas station and carwash and an 85-foot high freestanding pylon sign.

The second phase of the project is planned to include a 64,000-square-foot hotel with 80 rooms and three junior anchors that could accommodate businesses sized equivalent to a Pier 1 Imports or TJ Maxx.

“When this project is fully developed it’ll bring a significant amount of sales tax revenue in addition to eventual property tax revenue to the city,” said City Manager Tom Westbrook.

He said last week’s action allows the developer to sell properties and deliver lots to build the projects. Westbrook noted that In-N-Out has submitted development plans and construction documents. The chain has been looking at locating in Ceres for some time and didn’t have an opportunity to be near the freeway until the Gateway Center developed.

In 2008 the city first approved the Gateway project as proposed by Ralph Ogden. The project stalled when the economy hit the skids that year and expired in 2012 after extensions were granted. The center was redesigned and brought back by Ogden’s son, Daniel. The original project included plans for two hotels.

The seven parcels in the first phase are:

• 1.2 acres for a 3,974-square-foot building to accommodate an In-N-Out Burger restaurant with a drive-thru and 42 parking spaces.

• 0.91 acres for a 4,529-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru operation and 46 parking stalls.

• 1.11 acres reserved for a 2,418-square-foot eatery with a drive-thru operation and 42 parking spaces.

• 1.69 acres for an 11,142-square-foot building with a drive-thru to accommodate retail/restaurant/coffee shop uses and 76 parking spaces.

• A .65-acre parcel for a 2,600-square-foot building to accommodate a restaurant with a drive-thru and 29 parking spaces.

• A .67-acre site for a 2,500-square-foot Chipotle restaurant with a drive-thru operation and 27 parking spaces.  

• 1.6 acres for a 6,449-square-foot Circle K convenience store, gas pumps, carwash, and 43 parking spaces.

The project is proposed in two phases with the first phase consisting of the on- and off-site improvements including curb, gutter, sidewalk, and landscaping, parking and landscape, signage, and water, sewer, and storm drainage infrastructure, a 306-stall parking lot to serve the new retailers on proposed Parcels 1-7 and the buildings.  

In 2020 project developer David Zylstra mentioned vast changes in the retail world brought about by Amazon and internet shopping which have “forced retailers to get better at both doing their brick and mortar presentation as well as online.”

He said the buildings in the project have a significant number of drive-thru lanes for retailers, and because of smartphone apps with customers pre-ordering. A number of fast-food providers are moving toward drive-up lanes, including Chipotle, Panera Bread and Jamba Juice. Since the pandemic, there has been ever greater reliance on drive-up lanes.  

Westbrook explained that there will be a relocated signal light on Mitchell Road to align Roeding Road with the entrance to the center. Temporary signals will be placed farther south on Mitchell Road to regulate the traffic at the on- and off-ramps of Highway 99. He explained that the temporary signals are a requirement of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center with its anchor of Walmart Supercenter at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads.

Westbrook said the center has “fairly robust landscaping” to obscure vehicles in the cues of the drive-thru lanes visible from the freeway, Mitchell and Service roads as well as the future Service Road overpass with its diverging diamond design.