Vortex Cold Storage: Rapid Response for SQF Space with Convertible Temperature Zones


Vortex Cold Storage
Albert Lea, Minnesota

Responding to a nationwide dearth of cold storage facilities as well as an aging logistics network, the founders of JonnyPop identified a need to provide new storage options for the Upper Midwest market – not just for their products, but also for other companies seeking last-mile refrigerated and freezer warehousing space.

To make this project a reality – particularly within the timeframe required to meet their aggressive schedule – Vortex Cold Storage partnered with WDS Construction and affiliate company JCW Development. The project further benefitted from PACE Equity Fast Track Funding – their first cold storage project in the country. PACE provides low-cost funding for energy-efficient construction projects. The City of Albert Lea provided development incentives including Tax Incrementing Funding over nine years and tax abatement for six years.

A design-build project delivery approach was utilized to further expedite the project schedule and create a cohesive team from the beginning of the project. The resulting project is a 173,400 sq. ft. convertible cold storage facility constructed on a 26-acre site near the intersection of two major highways for convenient access.

Building features include:

  • Safe Quality Food Certified storage space
  • 4 cells with convertible temperature zones
  • 34,888 pallet positions
  • Temperature ranges of 40 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 40’ to top of product with push-back rack system
  • 12 truck docks operating at 15 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Corporate headquarters for Vortex Cold Storage


Designed and constructed with sustainability in mind, cold storage is provided via a CO2 refrigeration system with efficient evaporator fans, saving the owner an estimated $1.27/square foot. A decision was made to pursue this option after completion of a refrigeration study, which determined that the payback for upgrading from freon to CO2 would be fewer than four years. Energy-efficient LED lighting was provided throughout the building.

The site and facility were planned to accommodate multiple future expansions and a transfer switch was included to add generation capabilities if/when needed.

Building features include steel-framed construction with insulated metal panels (IMP) and TPO roof membrane. ACM panels were utilized for the office exterior. A Tyco QUELL cold storage fire protection system was incorporated throughout the building.

Major delays were caused by the global pandemic, and further challenges were triggered by construction material shortages and spiraling costs for them. For example, the building was originally designed to employ bar joists; however, the anticipated 15-week delivery schedule exploded to 40 weeks, accompanied by major pricing increases. WDS Construction’s team responded with out-of-the box thinking, and determined that of all available options, replacing the bar joists with wide-flange beams would allow the original schedule to be maintained while saving approximately a quarter million dollars when compared to the bar joist option.

Despite the size and complexity of the project, as well as the significant schedule challenges, the first products arrived only 10 months after project groundbreaking. This was achieved by the development and implementation of a phased construction approach that allowed portions of the building to open early, while construction in other areas was being completed.



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