Building Multistory Projects

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Today’s escalation of property values has created a higher demand for available land. The scarcity of affordable commercial- or industrial-zoned property with premier frontage exposures has driven many storage facilities into the multistory market. In the past, many storage facilities were either tucked into oddball parcels or parcels with poor access. These were available below the standard market rate because they had marginal exposure or were difficult to develop for any number of reasons. For example, the pattern of developing less-expensive land in industrial zones works well for a storage-type of use.

Even though weaving through the entitlement process on a larger, industrial zoned parcel may be less cumbersome, the inconvenience of the “off the beaten path” project may not be desirable to a majority of users. Industrial-zoned parcels are often more difficult for retail tenants to find. Finally, female users make up approximately 70 percent of the industry’s clientele. Their choice is typically a cleaner, brighter facility in safe surroundings that is convenient to access.

Commercial-zoned parcels with more desirable exposure have a tendency to be smaller than industrial-zoned ones, and current real estate values and land costs have increased as they relate to storage projects. This keeps project developers vying for key locations. Prime real estate that benefits from the luxury of self advertising with direct freeway, highway or major boulevard exposure comes at a premium. These are just a few of the major contributing factors to multistory building.

The obvious advantage to building a storage facility with multiple stories is the increased coverage of total building area vs. total site area. The multistory concept allows the maximum utilization of a site. However, care must be taken during the zoning-research phase to ensure the allowable lot coverage or floor-toarea ratios do not exceed the jurisdiction’s zoning or development criteria.

Exposure and Signage

In most cities, signage standards are restrictive with regard to freestanding pole signs, billboards and large monument signs. One of the great advantages of a multistory facility is the built-in signage palette created on the upper walls of the building. The signage can be displayed on the upper floors for greatest exposure. These built-in signage areas overcome the need for special signage considerations or variances, which can be costly and may add delays to the development of the project.

Climate Control

Climate-controlled units can rent out at a premium and are normally earmarked for the storage of temperature-sensitive materials, (i.e., wine storage, important documents, antiques, etc.). They can be efficiently located on the interior and upper levels of a multistory facility. There is no need to use insulated doors and no concern for heat or cooling loss when the entire floor is climate-controlled with no exterior doors.

Maximizing the Opportunity for High Efficiency

Generally speaking, there are two types of storage projects: single-story drive-up facilities or multistory facilities. Multistory projects require additional components to make them function properly. These items include corridors, stairs, elevators, cargo lifts, cart storage and even ramps. The key to a successful project is to incorporate these components into the project as efficiently as possible. During the early planning stage these elements must be incorporated into the design of the project, so the facility is user-friendly while meeting its peak operating potential.

The balance of the project is also an important item to keep in mind when planning a multistory facility. When a project goes multistory, the concept of maximizing the number of driveup units helps create a marketable unit mix. On irregular shaped parcels, the “thinking outside of the box” approach often applies to achieving the final solution for a successful project.

Two-Story Elevator vs. Two-Story Ramp

The trend for typical two-story storage buildings is to discount the second floor rental units anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent due to the inconvenience of long travel distances and elevator travel to and from the unit. In contrast, the two-story drive-up ramp is an innovative concept that allows drive-up loading on the second floor.

The two-story ramped version negates the need to discount any second-story rental units because the architectural design affords groundlevel access to the entire second floor. Tenants can access the first and second levels without the inconvenience of loading and unloading their goods by means of an elevator. Eliminating elevators from the project is a direct cost benefit to the project developer’s bottom line. The ramped project complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. It also creates a more efficient unit-mix layout, allocating less building area for corridors and vertical circulation.

Balance and Variety

Even if the building rises multiple stories, it is extremely important to maintain a good balance and a wide variety of unit sizes. The units on upper floors should be focused around the elevators and the loading areas surrounding them. It is essential that the spaces directly adjacent to the elevators are spacious. The elevators should have a holding capacity, and the elevator lobby should be aesthetically pleasing. On a four-story project, three-quarters of tenants use elevators to access their units. There will definitely be a heavy concentration of users shuffling in and out of the elevators on these multistory projects, so convenience and appearance are key.

A User-Friendly, Secure Environment

One of the key aspects of successful multistory facilities is a user-friendly environment. Some of the features incorporated into today’s facilities are well-lit hallways with bright-white reflective wall panels; long, straight hallway configurations for good visual control; music systems in the hallways; and generous drive aisles.

Most facilities have state-of-the-art security and access-control systems, which may have security sensors on each door. Multistory facilities have a built-in security feature—all upper floors load internally from hallways, which allows less opportunity for direct access to storage units from the outside.

In Conclusion

A higher-priced real estate environment and a demand for the greatest exposure have created a need for multistory facilities. Today’s more sophisticated approach to self-storage projects surpasses that of sandwiching rows of single-story buildings onto a particular site. But for these facilities to pencil out on the financial pro forma, they must be as efficient as possible.

Each governmental jurisdiction has its own set of development criteria, and it is extremely important to conduct careful research at the onset of the project. This is why careful, creative planning and more efficiently designed layouts are an absolute necessity to be competitive in the marketplace.

Bruce Jordan is president of San Clemente, Calif.-based Jordan Architects Inc., a full-service architectural firm specializing in the design and entitlement of self-storage projects. For more information, call 949.388.8090 or e-mail ja@jordanarchitects.com.

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