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Former U.S. Air Force Base Converts to Mixed-Use Sustainable Self-Storage Project in Denver

By Amy Fuhlman

This is not just another conversion story. We’re all accustomed to seeing vacant grocery stores, big-box stores, downtown office buildings and even a Hawaiian cave converted successfully to accommodate self-storage; but a historic airplane hangar in Denver now offers a unique new home for storage, shopping and public amenities with a twist.

Hangar History

The Original Lowry FieldHangar 2 is part of the redeveloped Lowry Air Force Base, which comprised two massive hangars. Established in 1938, the base was built to house an Air Force Technical Training School. Its original mission was aerial-photography training, but Lowry was also heavily involved with the training of U.S. bomber crews and flight engineers during World War II.

In addition, the base was home to the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1954 to 1958, until its permanent site in Colorado Springs was completed. President Eisenhower even spent some time at Lowry, as his wife’s family was from the Denver area. He essentially used it as a “summer home” from 1953 through 1955.

Due to the proximity of the residential area and the increase in high-performance jet-aircraft accidents at the base, flight operations ceased in 1966, though administrative offices and training remained active. In October 1994, cost-reduction measures taken by the military caused the closure of all offices and training facilities.

Hangar 1 was redeveloped as the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Hangar 2 remained vacant until its rebirth in 2011, thanks to the innovative development team of Hartman Ely Investments (HEI) and Larimer Associates, jointly known as Hangar 2 Partners (H2P).

HEI specializes in the design and adaptive use of historic buildings, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Larimer is a Denver-based real estate investment and management firm, best known for the Larimer Square project in downtown Denver. The company has also created several energetic neighborhood-redevelopment projects and restaurant properties. Together, HEI and Larimer brought complementary synergies to the table and a driving desire to infuse the Hangar with services that would unite the community while preserving its historic value.

Why This Space?

Hangar 2 is a very unusual setting for a self-storage conversion. H2P chose it for four distinct reasons:

  • High market demand and barrier to entry for self-storage in the area
  • Relatively low construction cost inside an existing hangar shell
  • Low parking demand (parking was much needed for other areas of the development)
  • Only minor changes necessary to the historic exterior facades

Self-storage consulting veteran Jim Chiswell, president of Chiswell & Associates LLC, was contacted to work on the project. When first asked about his interest in doing a feasibility study for such an unusual facility, Chiswell wasn’t sure the offer was real. But after a few phone calls with Hangar 2 principals Joe Vostrejs and Jim Hartman, he was on a plane to Denver.

Artist Rendering of Hangar No. 2“I quickly discovered the Hangar 2 team had an inspired mixed-use vision of the property’s repurposing that was truly unique for a self-storage conversion,” Chiswell said. “Despite the surrounding competition, it was quickly evident the facility would be serving primarily the Lowry community. All my research pointed to a market opportunity with extremely high barriers to any further entry.” 

With almost 100,000 square feet of column-free space with a solid interior aircraft slab on which to build, H2P was interested in finding the best use for the space. The venture analyzed many redevelopment concepts before settling on self-storage combined with small-scale office/retail as the best option. Although the design went through a number of iterations, the final layout consists of 65,000 net square feet of storage in 600 units―that’s phase 1. In phase 2, restaurants, retail and office space are added, giving the complex a distinct marketing advantage.

“The self-storage portion of the master development plan is critically important to the overall financial feasibility because of the positive cash flow it will provide without a significant impact on space for parking,” explained Chiswell.

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