The goal for any self-storage development is simple: Obtain as many units as possible out of the available space. In this business, units equal money, and in that equation there’s no room for wasted space.
Across the nation, the number of households renting self-storage space has grown steadily since 1995—from one in 17 to one in 10, according to the Self Storage Association. Moreover, the customer profile has also expanded to include a greater percentage of high-income people seeking secure, climate-controlled space to store valuables such as wine, antiques and even seasonal clothing.
“In densely populated areas, the conversion of multi-story buildings makes up a large percentage of new self-storage facilities,” says Frank Relf, founder and president of Frank G. Relf Architect PC in Huntington, N.Y.
In rural or suburban areas where property is less expensive, new construction is more popular, and allows architects to create more efficient layouts with fewer restrictions. With conversions, architects must work around pre-existing layouts, which often limits the number and size of units.
When Relf set out to create a multi-unit project for Advantage Self Storage in Middletown, N.Y., his goal was to maximize the rentable space. The firm has designed more than five million square feet of self-storage space, with an equal split between new structures and conversions of existing ones.
The optimal net-rentable space for any self-storage unit is 85 percent to 90 percent. The maximum rentable space is determined by taking the overall size of the facility and unit-mix layout subtracting corridors, loading areas, offices, stairways, elevators and all other non-rentable space. Knowing how much total rentable space is available is the first step in the unit- and site-optimization process.
The Middletown site was designed for three separate uses: a self-storage facility, a major drugstore chain with a drive-through pharmacy, and an ice cream store. Numerous vehicles enter the site daily, increasing visibility of the storage property and allowing the businesses to complement one another.
While the largest challenge was the irregular shape of the site, other issues quickly arose adding an air of unforeseen complexity to the project.
Originally an Agway grain and feed depot, the plot was next to a railroad line used for loading and unloading cargo. Years of neglect left the buildings dilapidated and unsuitable for renovation. Demolition presented a fair amount of budget challenges. Prior to razing, asbestos removal was required, in addition to the removal of underground oil tanks.
Construction was slated for off-season, ensuring uninterrupted operation for the seasonal ice cream shop. The existing space was located in a building scheduled for demolition. To accommodate the store and not violate the lease agreement, a house mover was used to cut away a portion of the building and move the store to its new foundation.
Once the demolition was complete, delays from bidding, bank financing and contractor negotiations exacted their toll on the project. Late spring turned into late summer and brought a change in the soil. Its once-stable composition was now a mucky mixture of sand, clay and loam. In order to get the foundations started, 2,000 yards of soil had to be removed and replaced with the same amount of gravel and soil to set the footings. In the end, the delays cost three months of time and budget.
Finally, a Grand Opening
Plans for the self-storage facility included four separate structures: a two-story, 26,750-square-foot, climate-controlled building and three non-climate-controlled ones (a 17,550-square-foot two-story, and two single-story buildings; one 4,500 square feet, another 5,500 square feet).
All were constructed using industry-standard, load-bearing, red-iron systems, masonry piers and stair towers, flush panel corridors and roll-up doors. “The local planning department also required we use higher than normal metal standing-seam pitched roofs due to our proximity to residential properties,” Relf notes. “A word of caution to anyone developing in snow zones with pitched roofs: demand snow guards within the cost of the building. Our gutters ripped off the building in the first mild snow.”
The facility also has a kiosk to help service clients and attract new business. The kiosk controls security and limits access with a gated entrance. The main building houses retail sales and an office.
What was once an abandoned 3.5-acre plot has been transformed into a dynamic, multi-functional site to serve the needs of the Middletown community. “At the grand opening, many town officials complimented the development team for turning an eyesore into a gem that complements the business district,” Relf says.
The Advantage Self Storage facility, on the heavily traveled Dolson Avenue across from Republic Plaza, provides easy access for residents and business owners in need of additional space. Its proximity to the city center represents a national trend in the self-storage industry, Relf says. “Self-storage facilities are moving closer to their customers and, unlike in the past, today’s buildings are aesthetically pleasing and amenity rich.”
Creating curb appeal is critical, and facilities should include features that enhance the look of the entire structure. “While box-shaped buildings are the standard for optimizing space, making facilities inviting to customers is an important component of design,” Relf says.
“The sector continues to evolve in new and exciting ways,” he adds. “Today’s facilities are designed based on location, market factors and cost considerations.” While architects seek to design buildings with the greatest possible rentable space, other factors—design, construction customization and sustainability—have become increasingly important.
Lindsey Jaffe is an emerging media specialist at WordHampton Public Relations, a Long Island, N.Y., firm devoted to building reputations through strategic and creative thinking. For more information, call 631.727.6204; visit www.wordhampton.com.
For more information about Advantage Self Storage, call 631.271.4432; visit www.fgrelf.com.