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Amazon plans distribution hub at former Bakersfield Kmart

The former Kmart on Wilson Road is slated to become an Amazon distribution hub and the e-commerce giant's second warehouse development in Kern County.

City records show a 123,000-square-foot warehouse proposed at the site would receive and sort six truckloads of consumer goods per day. Products would then be loaded onto 20 delivery vans and shipped out in staggered departure times to avoid causing congestion.

Amazon has been identified as the operator, according to a representative of one of the small businesses ordered by the property's owner to vacate the site to make room for the new project.

An Amazon spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the project. She said by email the company is "constantly exploring new locations and weighing a variety of factors when deciding where to develop sites to best serve customers."

The property's owner did not return calls requesting comment Monday. Neither did the project's applicant at Irvine real estate developer Greenlaw Partners.

The city's Board of Zoning Adjustment in September approved a conditional-use permit to convert the existing, 50-year-old building into a distribution warehouse. Nowhere in materials filed with the city is Amazon mentioned, and a city official said the operator's name had not been disclosed.

Amazon was similarly stealthy when it was in early stages of developing the much larger "fulfillment center" the Seattle-based company recently opened just north of Meadows Field Airport. In that case, county officials considering the project were unaware the nation's most valuable retailer was behind it.

A majority of the property's 128,150-square-foot footprint along Wilson Road will remain in place, according to paperwork filed with the city. But it says the shopping center's eastern portion will be bulldozed to accommodate driving access and parking.

The demolition is expected to take out several small businesses operating on the property, including the Golden Ox Diner and a small store owned by the father of Miguel Munoz, who said he was told by the landlord that Amazon had purchased the entire property.

County records give no indication Amazon has bought the center. They show the former Kmart, which closed in early 2017, was purchased in May 2018 by investor Balbir Singh. He sold it in March 2019 to Big J Investment LLC, which is at least partly owned by Singh. County property records show that eight months later Big J sold or transferred the property to itself or a company of the same name.

Munoz said his father's lease doesn't expire until April but that they have been told to vacate by January. He said the final deadline to move out has changed a few times.

A representative of the city of Bakersfield said its Planning Division has not received a project timetable from the property owner or the applicant, Greenlaw.

The warehouse can only improve what has become a blighted property, said Bakersfield real estate professional Frank St. Clair, whose company owns a 257-unit apartment building directly north of the empty Kmart space.

"We're happy to see it go," he said, adding that transients hanging out at the shopping center sometimes jump a fence onto his company's property.

Singh originally planned to develop an independent supermarket on the site of the former Kmart and the Big Lots next door. His business partners said there was also going to be a banquet hall, a gym and a Dairy Queen at the shopping center. Those plans appear to have been changed.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf