Inside Self-Storage Magazine 07/2004: Remodeling & Conversion Projects

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Remodeling & Conversion Projects
Turning old buildings into profitable investments

By Nicholas Jodhan

In spite of the softening of some real estate markets caused by reckless overbuilding, developers are proving self-storage remains a viable investment. Although new construction is still the most common approach, the ever-evolving storage product has found yet another avenue: the infill conversion. Similarly, remodeling projects transform older storage sites into upscale, state-of-the-art facilities with new amenities and profit-making options.

Having been tapped by developers in the past, this segment of the market is no great secret. However, the opportunity may be broader than originally anticipated. A combination of creative thinking and high-level expertise has proven to be successful in rendering a “useless” building into a cash-flow producing storage facility. Take a look at the following case studies that prove the point.

South Florida

This 38,000-square-foot, dock-high building in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had approximately 15 feet clear to the roof line, hardly leaving room for the second floor needed to increase square footage. Among the solutions discussed was the possibility of raising the roof. In some cases, this is not cost prohibitive and can be a good solution. In this instance, however, a more thorough examination of the building produced a better answer.

Destructive analysis revealed the original construction to be at ground level, with the columns sitting on column pads. The interior dock-high floors were actually a retrofit application. This meant removing the interior floor would create more available head height, which would allow for the pouring of a new slab and insertion of a second floor. The additional 40,000 square feet make the project work and the pro forma sing.

Puerto Rico

My partner, John Wilson of Construction Processes International Inc., requested my attention on this project in Puerto Rico. An industrial site with loading docks was being vacated by rental tenants, and its owners were committed to converting the building to self-storage. As the former tenant was a large distributor, the loading docks were a necessary accoutrement to the building. However, the new intended use made the dock configuration obsolete. My first thought was to eliminate the dock and dock-high floor, which would lower the first-floor elevation. This proved to be impossible because, unlike the Fort Lauderdale project, the dock and building floor were totally integrated. If it were even possible to separate the two, it would be entirely too costly a procedure.

So, the dock had to stay. Given its height from the ground elevation, loading through the dock doors was impractical in a self-storage application. The trick was to determine a use for it and integrate it into the design. We met the challenge by doubling the dock’s width, adding a couple of drive ramps, and constructing a building between them. The new structure would have unit access from the ramp and ground levels. Another of the buildings on site had a clear height of 35 feet, so we immediately added two upper floors, which significantly increased the square footage.

Because the site was very large and we needed to provide as much drive-up storage as possible, we designed additional buildings to be integrated into the overall layout. This project is still under way, but the images shown here represent the complexity of the project and the creative solution that took it from 41,700 to 95,700 square feet of profit-producing storage product.

At first blush, an industrial building with a loading dock may seem an easy conversion to self-storage because of the frequent use of trucks at these facilities by tenants. But the reality is dock-height tractor trailers are seldom used. A more common visitor to a storage facility would be a large wheel-base moving truck, which has a much lower floor. If the dock does not have a leveler, it may be an obstacle to the viability of the conversion. Though some dock configurations may be used “as is,” most will require some type of modification.

Being conscious of your market, determining the likelihood of a dock’s use, and assessing the value of keeping vs. the costs of removing it will help extract as many rentable square feet as possible from a site. A little creative thinking augmented with expert advice and innovative design can produce a handsome return on your investment in this niche of the self-storage market.

Nicholas Jodhan has been involved in the development of self-storage for the past seven years, designing and developing self-storage facilities in several major cities. He continues to develop creative ways of addressing the new parameters of the modern self-storage industry. He is the owner of Gemini Plus LLC, a full-service consulting company. Mr. Jodhan can be reached at 941.366.9730; e-mail ngj1@earthlink.net.

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