Building any storage project can be a daunting proposition, even for a seasoned member of the industry. But relative newcomer Tom Linder had faith in his grand vision for Dunwoody Self Storage. For a locale, he ambitiously selected the affluent suburb of North Atlanta of Dunwoody, Ga., proposing a facility so aesthetically pleasing it overcame the objections of a community that unilaterally had rejected storage development.
This was a marvelous location and a rare opportunity, Dunwoody says. Ironically, zoning resistance had created a pent-up need for storageand the nearest competitor enjoyed consistently high occupancy.
Linder turned to longtime architectural friend, Todd Stalder, of Atlantas Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart and Stewart, for a design that would walk the tightrope between beauty and utility. Many of Stalders clients consider him a top international thematic designer, meaning he is concerned with multi-building projects that share a theme and architectural style. In some instances, design factors include neighborhood character, materials and historical perspective. To complement the town of Dunwoody, Stalders elegant solution was a facility resembling a five-star hotel or large mansion.
The Elegant Mansion
Dunwoody Self Storages colonial facade fits perfectly into the distinguished urban Dunwoody community, Linder says. Dunwoody is a high-end North Atlanta market permeated by Georgian and Williamsburg-style neighborhoods. Within three miles of Linders site are 3,500 businesses, three of Atlantas major hospitals, more than 800 doctors offices and one of Atlantas major shopping malls. It also has one of the busiest condominium developments in Atlanta with individual homes selling for as much as $3 million. Many residents are professionals with average incomes well over six figures.
Stalder wanted to design a building that preserved the Dunwoodys architectural heritage. I feel that this is a distinctive facility that combines an aesthetically pleasing design with functionality, he says. Traditional materials such as brick and wood siding added to the structures appeal, giving it an air of permanence that matched the neighborhood.
Other design elements such as columns, large roof overhangs, double-hung windows with shutters and wrought-iron railings set the facility apart from any other in the area, Stalder says. One might think you were driving past the local city hall rather than a storage facility, he says. The approach to the design of using the same type architecture and materials as existing office, shopping and medical buildings allows this facility to be an asset to the neighborhood.
Stadler maintains his approach could be used in any number of other areas, allowing self-storage to expand into resistant communities. This is a unique approach to self-storage design and certainly gets away from the metal building structures that many residents would oppose.
Dueling With Zoning Giants
The demographics of the Dunwoody location had convinced Linder he had a winnerwith a big if. First he needed approval from Dunwoody municipal authorities and local homeowners associations. Although Linder knew his facilitys design would be an asset to the neighborhood, he faced the zoning board with some trepidation. It was nearly always an open-and-shut case when it came to storage, he says. They were automatically turned down every time.
Just minutes before he was to speak, a well-dressed woman saw the rendering and exclaimed on the beauty and elegance of the building. Linder says she had no idea of its purpose. It turned out the woman was a major force in the preservation of the integrity of her community and had opposed every petition for storage-construction permits. But to my total surprise, after I presented my case and showed them my rendering, she approved my building, Linder says. She said it was a building that was needed in her community. The project received immediate zoning permission.
In September 2005, general contractor Cook Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta broke ground on the project Linder says people have dubbed The Storage Mansion. The 149,000-square-foot facility sits on 1.3 acres, purchased from nearby Costco/Home Depot and a private homeowner. The site is large enough to accommodate an expansion of about half the current building size.
Two levels of Dunwoody Self Storage will be underground. The sites grade fell steeply from the street side toward the rear of the lot. Stalder designed the building with four stories on the street elevation and six stories at the rear, requiring the 25,000-square-foot footprint to be excavated in a step-style formation. The storm/sewer system and retention ponds were already in place and no additional infrastructure was needed.
The grade of the site was not the only project challenge. The soil varies from weathered rock to red Georgia clay, all with different compression values. Engineers were concerned about variables in building settlement and recommended placing the building foundation on 540 piles averaging 27 feet deep and 18-inches in diameter. An auger drill bored each hole using a hollow drill bit. As the drill bit was removed from the hole, 4,000 PSI grout was pumped through the bit to form the piling. This is quite unusual for storage construction in our area, Linder says. Once the piles and foundation cured, a Terex crane was brought onto the site to lift the approximately 280 tons of steel required for the buildings frame and flooring. The structures exterior consists of Hardiplank fiber-cement lap siding from James Hardie Co., treated to resemble wood. Brick is used on the exterior lower floors as a design accent.
The facility features a metal built-up roof with another mansard roof along the edges. Although not functional, the mansard roof is finished with residential asphalt shingles, which contribute to the facilitys distinct Williamsburg architectural styling. Residential-style windows, although non-functioning, further enhance the residential look of the structure as do ground-floor windows along the front elevation.
The interior of the building is white metal including a soffit system in the corridors. Corridor floors are epoxy. Storage units and doors were supplied by Janus International Inc. The exterior brick motif is continued into the lobby on the walls and behind the transaction desk.
A large retail area displays moving and storage supplies with a refreshment stand featuring Starbucks coffee. Customers may use the business center outfitted with copy machines, document handling supplies and separate workstations with free Internet connection. Three 42-inch plasma CCTV screens are set up behind the sales counter.
Service at the Mansion
Within Dunwoodys 133,000 net rentable square feet are 985 climate-controlled units, varying from 5-by-5 to 15-by-35. The spectrum of sizes and the fact its 100 percent climate controlled, allows the store to provide wine storage, a needed service in this upscale area. The larger-sized units are considered ideal for nearby businesses to accommodate inventories as well as records storage. Shelving and carpeting is available to customize any unit. Prices will be determined just before opening this fall.
Customers are given access to a free moving truck. Access at ground level is through two separate entrances designed as a porte-cochere tall enough to accommodate moving vans. Three large Otis elevators and overhead doors simplify the loading and unloading of goods. And free carts help customers move goods internally.
DigiCapture Video Surveillance and Sonitrol Security Systems provided the security system, which includes CCTV cameras and access-codes. One camera is positioned to record the license plate of every vehicle that visits the site, reminiscent of airports. Access to the facility is through a computerized electronic keyless system. Dunwoody will be focused on customer service. If a customer is having a party and needs two tables and chairs, Ill be happy to go unlock their unit and bring them around, Linder says.
Before the Opening
Visibility is so high that promotion and advanced marketing may not be a major concern. Since the store is on two major streets with a daily traffic flow between 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles, construction on the Dunwoody project has become part of the promotion. Passing motorists see the sign, and by summer calls were already coming in from people expressing interest in storage. Opening is tentatively expected in October, and Linder is not planning a grand-opening event. We want to do an invitation-only opening and show three or four people around the facility at a time, he says. They can see what to expect and we can find out what their needs are.
To introduce the project to the community, Linder and Steve Heifner, president of Linders management company, Annox Management, spent hundreds of hours visiting businesses, apartments, condominium complexes, local hospitals and doctors offices.
Behind the Scenes
Linder acknowledges the project isnt a product of his efforts alone. Several industry individuals influenced the concept and development of Dunwoody Self Storage, he says. Everything came together for this projecthome owners associations, officials, consultants, employees and many others.
Linder formerly owned 24 small cable-television systems. He also served as Georgias state budget director and was executive director of a seven-county planning and development commission in mid-Georgia. His prior storage experience was limited to developing and selling two sites.
We know were building a first-class and upscale facility with a beautiful architectural design, he says. But our No. 1 priority is to present a service people consider to be inviting, pleasant and easy. We are studying every idea we can come up with to make this experience better. This challenge is new every morning and we will endeavor to improve our performance every day.
For more information, call 770.350.0070; visit www.dunwoodyselfstorage.com.