A Case Study: Butler Manufacturing Company
Good Design Overcomes Bad Topography
By Jim Ladesich
Self-storage developers often "infill" sites where a strategic location offsets their problem topography. That was the case with a 75,000-square-foot center completed last year by Parkway Property Company, LLC, in a Kansas-side suburb of the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. This project is one of 10 self-storage centers developed by Parkway Property in the 50,000- to 80,000-square-foot range.
The site is situated between a frontage road of Interstate Highway 35 and a Burlington Northern Railroad line. The five acres absorbed by the self-storage project were part of nine acres owned by a trust that would not subdivide the property, recounts Richard Lashbrook, Parkway Property's managing general partner. The most logical block for the self-storage center presented a challenging 35-foot drop in elevation from the high point along the frontage road down to the rear of the property skirting the railroad.
The surrounding area presented mature development, with a mix of single-family, high-density apartment complexes and various businesses. Several existing self-storage projects were already operating in the area, all factors normally taken into account when projecting rate of return on a self-storage development. However, as Lashbrook emphasizes, "Offsetting these apparent shortcomings was the site's high visibility for the right mix of development. More than 141,000 vehicles drive past it daily on Interstate 35. You can overcome a lot with a well-designed, better product at such a high-visibility location."
Lashbrook's plan subdivided the site into a self-storage center with the remainder for a hotel and two restaurant pads. The mix was quickly endorsed by the City of Merriam, Kan. And Strickland Construction Company, a Butler builder in Overland Park, Kan., was selected as the design/builder for the self-storage portion of the development. Rogers Strickland, CEO, who has designed and built, consulted on or directly invested in nearly two million square feet of self-storage centers to date, brought a broad perspective to the project.
According to Strickland, several elements are essential to a self-storage project. He says he shares Lashbrook's belief that a good location, preferably within sight of an interstate highway, is mandatory for any project. Drive lanes must be wide enough for long tractor-trailers or high moving vans to negotiate through the center. Construction costs must typically stay within the $20- to $25-per-square-foot range. Wrought-iron perimeter fencing, masonry walls and "clock towers" can be used as backdrops for high-visibility signage and to overcome zoning board objections, he says.
The mix of rental units is more intuitive and will vary from location to location, Strickland adds. In the Kansas City area, the trend is toward dedicating 10 percent to 20 percent of a project's square footage to climate-controlled units. Strickland uses a mix of the Butler metal buildings and Lester wood-frame building systems, both with standing-seam metal roofs.
Subdividing the land and buildings into the right balance and configuration takes many hours of manipulating options before arriving at the right layout and ratio of rental units. Some ingenuity is evident in the design for Lashbrook's most recent project in Merriam. The development applied Butler Self-Storage Systems for the longer strips with a Lester pre-engineered wood-frame building used for the office, the manager's residential quarters and some climate-controlled units. Stepped back corners preserve the 30- to 40-foot main drive lanes for semi-trucks negotiating through a property. Dual gates, including the keypad-controlled main entrance, further enhance flexibility in the access/egress scheme. The nine buildings subdivide into 363 units in 18 different sizes.
To overcome a sloped terrain, Strickland terraced the property for two of the three strips. An expensive concrete retaining wall was eliminated in favor of 8-foot-high, partial concrete foundations beneath two buildings. Eight-inch, precast concrete panels were used for upper-level floor decks. This not only resolved the slope, but created 11,000 square feet of additional rental units accessed off rear drive lanes.
Site preparation required 20 feet of new fill and removal of nearly 3,000 cubic yards of rock and bad fill from a former gully the previous owners had used as an unlicensed dump over the years. The site's drainage system was designed to handle 39,600 cubic feet per hour, with the runoff carried to a detention pond at a toe of the property along the railroad line.
The development is managed under a contract held by Storage Trust. According to Lashbrook, his premise that a higher quality product at the right location can compete effectively with even well-established centers still holds true: Since opening in September 1997, rentals have been exceeding projections.
Jim Ladesich is a construction writer and publicist based in Shawnee, Kan. He has more than 25 years experience covering the construction and real-estate development industries. For more information, contact Greg Hughes at Butler Self Storage Systems, (816) 968-3633.