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PHILADELPHIA -- The time is almost here for the opening of the new Philadelphia produce market.

Philadelphia's fresh fruit and vegetable distributors will soon occupy one of the larger, more modern produce terminals in the world. The market measures 667,000 square feet in size.

As of mid-May, a move-in date was uncertain. Jimmy Storey, president of the Philadelphia Fresh Food Terminal Corp., said, "We will be in by this September or October. Maybe earlier or later." Once the construction is generally completed, two months will be needed to test the refrigeration and other systems before the tenants move in.

The market cost is $218 million, and the funding is partially provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and partially by the tenants' leases, which will be about two-and-a-half times more per unit than what their cost are on the old market.

The rectangular market is about 1,400 feet long and is surrounded by a 50- foot wide, air-controlled perimeter loading dock. The market features a long central concourse that buyers will walk. Traffic in the center of the concourse will be left to pallet jacks, while pedestrian walks in front of display areas will be made-safe by a heavy yellow steel guard rail that will separate walkers from jacks.

When The Produce News last toured the construction site May 5, wallboard was going up in some offices, many of the coolers had racks installed, and among the 480 construction workers on-site that day, a handful were frighteningly high above the concourse's concrete floor preparing to install the first skylights. The translucent skylights will illuminate the central part of the building with natural light.

If the new Philadelphia market were stood on its end, it would be 50 stories taller than New York's Empire State Building, according to Sonny DiCrecchio, who will be the chief executive officer of the new market, which is called the Regional Produce Cooperative Corp. Mr. DiCrecchio is currently general manager of the existing market, which is the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.

Market tenants are choosing the layout of their individual sales areas, office space and coolers. The temperature throughout the market's working areas will always be 50 degrees, though produce distributors can easily adjust the temperature of their individual coolers to suit the stored commodities. There is one central refrigeration and heating system for the entire market.

"I look forward to having better facilities for our produce and our customers," Mr. Storey said. "We will not break the refrigeration cold chain, and there will be better working conditions" by being a totally enclosed building. It will be a non-smoking building.

"It will be a huge move for the buyers down here," Mr. Storey said. "We have to go forward. We can't go backward and we can't stay here" on the PRPM. "This is a big jump for us. The facility is designed right. Like anything else that is huge, this gives everyone the jitters."

The market is so big "we will need golf carts to get around," Mr. Storey partially joked.

When the PRPM opened its doors in 1959, it was the world's most advanced produce market.

(For more on the Philadelphia market, see the May 24, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)