Since the real estate crash of the late 80s or early 90s, conversion of real estate from an absolute use to one of renewed activity has been a challenge to all owners. Whether it is an old mill building in the Northeast, a discount store in the South, an office building in the Southwest or a manufacturing plant in the West, finding a new use for an unoccupied structure can be problematic. However, some developers have overcome the obstacles and been rewarded by converting old buildings to self-storage.
When a conversion of a former use building to self-storage is successful, the new use makes the building profitable again. If done right, city officials are happy with the new appearance. Finally, the new use offers local residents a well-located and convenient place to store their valuables.
Self-storage conversions are often profitable and don’t cost a lot to accomplish; but there will be challenges. In some cases, access is difficult or security is not well planned. Other times, the office layout or unit mix is poor. In my travels, I often pass self-storage conversions, but seldom do I see one that has captured the true essence of what the process is all about. This article is about one of the best self-storage conversions I have ever encountered.
- Location: Located in the small town of Houma, La., West Park Climate Controlled Self-Storage was a former Wal-Mart that had been closed for five years. It is on West Park Ave., a one-way, two-lane street along an old, backwater bayou. West Park is the main road between downtown Houma and the city’s main shopping area.
- Development and Operations: Stirling Properties Inc., a New Orleans-based regional real estate company, chose Fitzpatrick & Associates, also of New Orleans, as co-developer to oversee the redevelopment of the building as well as management of the ongoing storage operations of the facility.
- Design: The 10,000-square-foot, “all indoor” facility was designed to be a warm, friendly destination for tenants. Carlton Parker of CBP Architects put together the plan package, while Lisa Roth of Montgomery Roth Parker developed the color selections. Interior colors and finishes were chosen to provide a comfortable environment in which sales counselors and prospects can interact.
- Building Entrance: The front vestibule of the building was reconfigured as the office and retail-sales area. A 40-by-40-foot covered unloading area was added to the front of the vestibule to provide all-weather access. A stamped overlay simulating historic slate covers the main unloading area and front office space.
- Doors: High-security, automatic doors by Automatic Access were used to secure the main entrance to the storage area while providing easy access to the interior of the building. The Janus 650 door and hallway system was chosen for unit access.
- Gates and Fencing: Additional land next to the building was fenced and gated, creating 120 spaces for boat and RV storage. A beautiful, historic, New Orleans-style gate and fence was recreated for the entrance to the storage yard. Active Solutions of New Orleans supplied and installed the Digitech International Inc. keypads and access-control system, as well as the new dual-motor Elite gate operator.
- Parking: Limestone over a synthetic weed-barrier fabric makes up the parking surface.
- Signage: OPA Graphics produced the signage, including a stunning, 20-foot replica of an oak tree. OPA employed a special technique, using a sprayed poly-urea coating over carved styrofoam, creating a lightweight but extremely durable sign. (The company’s work can be seen in places such as the Cincinnati, Ft. Worth and New Orleans Audubon zoos.)
Coatings and Energy Savings: As heat gain is a major consideration in the deep South, Insultek Inc. applied a Nationwide Coatings ceramic-impregnated elastomeric coating on the roof and outer walls of the building. This provides waterproofing and tremendous heat reflectivity, as well as an excellent warranty on flat roofing systems.
The coating prices were so competitive with conventional paints, Nationwide products were also chosen for the inside walls and ceiling tiles. The interior coating also serves to retain heat during the winter. Preliminary numbers on the energy savings have surpassed expectations.
Additional energy savings were included with the use of instant-on hot-water heaters. Developed under a NASA patent, these devices remain dormant until hot water is needed. When the faucet is opened, they can supply steaming hot water indefinitely.
Building Automation: Active Solutions worked closely with Home Automation Inc. to develop fully integrated building automation, including climate control, and burglar and fire-alarm systems. The fully operational system monitors HVAC run times and coordinates start times of the compressors to reduce peak-load factors that drive up energy rates. It also monitors temperature differentials on all of the building’s 17 HVAC units and alerts management of any decrease in efficiency.
The automation system controls outdoor lighting, adjusting on/off times for changes in daylight hours throughout the year. The system also controls all interior lighting, only energizing rows of lights where tenants are visiting. It even triggers the automated watering system for the facility’s exquisite landscaping.
In addition to the extensive burglar and fire-alarm functions, the automated system is also used to monitor watch stations at all points of entry into the building as well as the restrooms. The manager makes rounds twice a day to inspect these points and push the watch-station buttons. Reports of these rounds are maintained, as well as reports of alarm conditions in case a round is interrupted. All openings and closings are logged by the system. Unusual activities automatically cause the appropriate person to be paged and e-mailed.
Video Surveillance: Alarms Plus handled installation of the state-of-the-art video-surveillance system by Active Solutions. Thirty-two cameras cover every point of entry as well as key locations throughout the facility and RV storage yard. The cameras are capable of extremely lowlight operation. They also change from color during daylight to black and white at night for better imaging.
The outdoor cameras are so waterproof that they are submersible, eliminating a significant maintenance issue. They also require only one wire for hook-up, saving on labor and materials. Some of the cameras can pan tilt and zoom in on unusual activity, and others are hidden for covert surveillance. The entire system is recorded digitally and uses no videotapes. All of the cameras can be securely accessed through the Internet, including the ability to play back activity at each camera.
Unlike new construction, redevelopment requires much closer scrutiny of each step of the process. The video-surveillance system played a critical part during the construction process. Because of its secure Internet accessibility, the developers and contractors were able to monitor every phase of construction, often making small changes throughout the process that would have required large corrections if allowed to continue.
- Management Software: The SiteLink package from SMD Software is used for management and operations. It features an easy-to-use interface combined with extensive reporting and home-office capabilities. It also interfaces seamlessly to Digitech’s DigiGate access-control system.
- Controls: The building automation, video surveillance, alarms and facility operations were integrated into two ergonomic command centers. At one, a touch-screen display allows total control over buildings, lighting, automation, HVAC and security systems. At the other, the management team has access to storage operations and video surveillance. Two large LCD, wallmounted displays present all surveillancecamera images for staff and clients to view.
- Emergency System: To reduce hazardous wastes and the labor involved with replacing lead/acid batteries in all of the emergency lighting fixtures typically required in this scale of building, a naturalgas powered emergency generator was installed. The generator supplies power to all of the emergency lighting and exit signs, as well as providing enough power to keep the office and gate systems fully operational. Services at West Park include a full line of packing, shopping and storing materials from Pack Rite. The facility also offers tenant insurance as well as an extensive line of products from MiniCo Inc.
Management: The management team is friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please. It managed to exceed 17 percent occupancy in less than 45 days after opening.
Fitzpatrick & Associates and Stirling Properties feel they have created the most technologically advanced, user-friendly self-storage facility in the region. Visitors are encouraged to stop and experience West Park’s Cajun charm and hospitality. For more information, visit www.westparkstorage.com.
Dan Curtis is president of Storage Consulting & Marketing in Atlanta, which specializes in market studies, feasibility, site layout and design, marketing, conversions and climate control. He is also vice president of Janus International Corp., of Temple, Ga. Janus manufactures self-storage doors, hallways and partition systems. For more information, call 770.432.2417 or 404.427.9559; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.