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Self-Storage as a Cell-Tower Site: Pros, Cons, Laying the 'Groundwork'

Steve Kazella Comments

For self-storage operators, cell towers can be a godsend, providing decades of steady rental income from grade-A tenants, or a bust, depending on how the cell-tower lease is drafted and the site developed. Self-storage facilities are outstanding places to install cell towers for several reasons. First, many are in high-traffic areas on main commercial arteries. In addition, they usually have the space, proper zoning and setbacks required to obtain cell-tower approval.

If you’re interested in having a cell tower on your storage site, there are three ways to connect with a carrier:

1. A carrier might “stumble across” your facility and make you an offer.

2. You can work with a large, multi-national tower corporation that knows local carrier requirements and builds sites. The corporation will pay the property owner a few hundred dollars monthly, and space is then sublet to various carriers. In this case, the tower company receives all revenue from the carrier leases.

3. You can partner with a property-management company that has contracts to represent, market, promote and manage the development and location of cell-tower sites. The management firm is usually compensated with a percentage of the lease revenue.

The biggest myth about getting a cell-tower built at your site is that you can contact carriers directly. You’re actually better off posting a “Cell Tower Wanted” sign at your facility. You probably have a one in 10,000 chance of getting the right people to review your site by making contact yourself. The carrier industry is controlled by a small number of individuals who are in the know.

Time Is of the Essence

If self-storage facilities make such great cell-tower sites, why don’t more operators have them? If it were easy to get a cell tower built on your property, everyone would. Leasing a monopole at your facility requires luck, patience, the proper professional guidance and some work on your part.

Wireless telecommunications carriers outsource all of their site-selection work to site-acquisition contractors whose job is to find properties and execute leases at locations suitable for development. Dealing with a larger self-storage firm often requires the consultant to go through his out-of-state corporate real estate department. It’s always easier to find a different site with a local owner than deal with out-of-state attorneys and property managers who knew nothing about a wireless carrier’s needs.

Cell-tower leasing contractors are compensated for bringing in a lease and sometimes have time-bonus incentives, so they’ll always choose to provide a site to a carrier that will be leased the fastest. So it’s imperative for any storage-facility owner to be prepared to move quickly with such a deal, and make sure the leasing contractor understands you have the ability to get the lease executed in a reasonable time.

Benefits of Cell Towers

A three-carrier cell tower whose lease has been properly crafted can generate anywhere from $2 million to $3 million in revenue over a 30-year term. Besides the obvious financial benefits of leasing space to a carrier, there are many other advantages to having a cell tower at your facility.

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