Cold comes early to Tideflats

Visitors tour VersaCold's new cold storage warehouse Wednesday during its grand opening celebration on the Tideflats.
Visitors tour VersaCold's new cold storage warehouse Wednesday during its grand opening celebration on the Tideflats. The Olympian

The temperature outside held steady in the upper 60s, but to visitors emerging from Versa-Cold's warehouse Wednesday it felt like Baja California.

Those visitors were at VersaCold’s new Tacoma cold-storage warehouse to celebrate the facility’s grand opening.

Temperatures inside the cutting-edge, 196,000-square-foot warehouse range from 40 degrees in the refrigerated storage areas to minus-15 degrees in the ice cream locker. Even the enclosed receiving dock is kept at wintertime temperatures, a constant 34 degrees. The warehouse, at 1301 26th Ave. E. on the Tacoma Tideflats, is the newest addition to the Vancouver, B.C.-based VersaCold’s worldwide network of refrigerated warehouses.

As such, the warehouse employs some of the latest energy-saving techniques to save power and cut costs, said Peter Kong, VersaCold warehouse supervisor.

The lights within the vast warehouse are energy-saving light-emitting diodes that switch off unless motion sensors detect human activity. Doors between the cold rooms open automatically when sensors detect someone approaching, then close after the person passes through. The lift trucks that scuttle around the warehouse are electrically powered, and nearly all of the waste that the warehouse generates is recycled.

Brent Sugden, VersaCold president, told the grand opening crowd of some 200 dignitaries that warehouse general manager Tony Caetano had told him that in the 62 days since the warehouse opened for business, it hasn’t generated enough waste to merit its first garbage pickup.

Sugden said the company had been seeking to acquire a cold storage facility in the Pacific Northwest for years. When nothing was available, the company chose to build a new warehouse.

The company provides service to virtually any customer needing cold storage capabilities. The high shelves within the building were stacked with thousands of boxes of frozen fish, ready-made pies, butter, cheese and temperature-sensitive candies.

VersaCold stores products for grocery stores, food distributors and producers, fishing companies and other customers. Its sophisticated warehouse can hold some 24,000 pallets of frozen goods, and its electronic retrieval system tracks the location and dates of every item in the huge cold rooms, Kong said.

The company employs some 50 people, including both warehouse and office workers.