By Drew Case
Storage Authority Franchise
Self -storage conversions and the ability to do them has numerous variables. Some will work out and others will be dead in the water before you know it. Some will provide you a lesson to remember for a lifetime. I have been involved with 20+ self- storage conversions, most of which have worked out just as planned. This article will briefly touch on some of my experience with three different self-storage conversion projects and interesting, frustrating and triumphant aspects from each one. The intention is to provide you with multiple examples of what you may encounter in a self-storage conversion. They can very different, to say the least. Each building is its own journey an there are many turning parts involved with any self-storage conversion.
Project 1: 86,000 sq. ft. Big Box
This project location had been vacant for about 6 years and was in a fairly busy business district and close to a mall. Great traffic flow and a growing area. The roof, sprinkler system and overall condition of the structure was fairly good Only a few patches were needed on the roof to buy time for about 10 years.
Zoning was not favorable for self storage, but there was a form of warehousing mentioned in the zoning. It was now the goal to associate self-storage and warehousing to gain approval. Luckily and to my surprise, the city assigned someone to me to help with basic design and also to present the overall site plan that would be acceptable to City Council & Building and Planning.
Despite the assistance, there were several changes needed to the site plan and rendering. Some outside drive up units that were added to the lot were not acceptable out front and needed to be moved to the side and another exterior building needed to be removed altogether. It took about 3-4 months to attain the zoning needed and the plans were ultimately approved. The site is almost always over 95% occupied and is a great addition to the community. Many of my friends use this facility and they love it.
Project 2: 110,000 sq.ft. Big Box
Project location had been vacant for about 5 years and attached to an older and mostly vacant shopping mall. Roof and sprinkler system in good condition. Once again, this project was in a business area and new apartments were recently up in the area. There was a genuine need for updated self-storage in the area and the demand was there.
The owner was willing to sell off this section of the mall, as he actually brought in two other anchors recently to the mostly vacant site. Exterior businesses that had visibility seemed to do well, but the interior of the mall was entirely vacant and virtually hopeless.
An outstanding rendering was put together, a full site study and and presentation planned and presented for City Council. Zoning would have to be changed to make this acceptable. Due to the failing mall, this seemed to be great addition to the mall area and added service to the community. Finally, an anchor of sorts could revitalize a portion of the mall.
Despite an outstanding rendering and presentation, City Council was not in favor of any changes to the mall area. They ultimately felt that self-storage was needed, but just not there. They City Council had a vision and adopted a "Master Plan" that did not include self-storage, but it did included trendy new retail shops in the mall. Six months was spent working on this particular conversion plan. Ten years later, the area of the proposed development remains empty and is a Halloween store for about two months a year.
Project 3: 86,000 sq. ft. multi-level
Project location was near a downtown of a major metro. This area was slowly becoming the trendier side of town and is still creeping along with continued development. It was a good time to get in the area as real-estate availability would be diminished and increase in price over time.
The building had a lower level (basement), main floor and second floor. It was built with piers supporting each floor similar to a parking garage. The 2nd floor was built out into offices, while the other two floors was mostly warehouse space.
Thankfully, zoning would not prove to be an issue at this site. There was some interior demo required throughout the 2nd floor, due to the office space and mild demo in a few areas on the main level. Demo proved rather simple. Due to the concrete structure, it was fairly simple to knock out the office walls and dispose of the materials. One of the more costly issues was the sprinkler system. The system needed to be completely installed from the street and all piping needed to be run throughout the building. Broadcast style sprinkler system was acceptable as a head was not required for each unit. A few spots were patched on the built up roof system.
Ultimately, the units were built out and it shaped into a beautiful build and showed well to the freeway. Great addition to the community, but not everything was perfect as that seemed too good to be true. About two months after completion, a huge rainstorm for the decades came along. I received a call that water was shooting up from the floor about 3' out of the drains. Soon, the lower level had about 6 inches of water throughout. What a nightmare!!! Well, after a clean up of that mess, a company was contacted to scope the drains and discover what the problem might be. Turns out that a "backflow preventer" was never installed on the main trunkline and so the heavy rains drained water right into the building. A backflow preventer works like a bladder and seals off ones the water flows out and prevents water from coming in. Lesson learned!!!
The site now is always over 95% occupied and a great addition to the community. Apartments continue to be developed in the area and the site is adding units today for additional customers.
Overall, conversions can be great, but they certainly can be different. Each one has its own path to follow. Some may be similar and others may be completely different. You will ultimately inherit something you didn't know about and it will prove to be a lesson in one way or another. They certainly can be a new gem in the neighborhood and at minimum an education to those involved.