3 Unique Perspectives on the Challenges, Pros and Cons of Self-Storage Conversion Projects

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By Ramey Jackson

Self-storage conversion is certainly not a new topic but one that bears further investigation. It’s almost impossible to discuss a conversion project without comparing it to a new build, but there are some distinct challenges, pros and cons for conversions that are worth noting. In this article, you'll get three unique perspectives to help shed light on this project type: the building manufacturer's point of view, the architect's and the developer's.

The Manufacturer's POV

First I'll discuss my own perspective, that of the building manufacturer. As a provider of self-storage doors and hallway systems, I've made the following observations regarding conversion projects.

Time savings is a key benefit. The permitting process can be lengthy and riddled with hurdles, but many municipalities are motivated to fill vacant buildings, which cuts down on some of the hard edges of the process. Many building candidates also have mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems already in place; therefore, your time to convert can be less than one-third that of new construction. (Note that your building layout does make a difference. I’ve seen quite a variance in big-box vs. multi-story conversions.)

Hand in hand with time savings is a financial advantage to embarking on a conversion. Again, you often have motivated sellers and a real cost benefit in selecting an existing shell. My clients tell me that rental rates in a conversion self-storage facility run equal with those of new construction, which is another plus.

On the cons list, some older buildings may have design elements such as columns, elevators, etc., that can reduce the total rentable area. I’ve seen floor-load challenges, environmental issues and external roadblocks, such as limited parking opportunities. Urban-area conversions have their own unique obstacles as well, such as limited unloading or storage areas and poorly operating elevators. On the other hand, I’ve encountered conversions that really allowed us to showcase ingenuity and flexibility, such as column wraps and panel modifications that we used on the conversion of a Hawaii cave to self-storage.

The Architect’s POV

Next we’ll take a look at conversions through the eyes of an architect. For this perspective, I spoke with Bruce Jordan of Jordan Architects Inc. in San Clemente, Calif. He agreed conversions can offer their share of challenges, but addressing them in creative ways has led to many innovative yet practical solutions.

Storage Neighbor in Atlanta before conversion***  Storage Neighbor in Atlanta after conversion***

Storage Neighbor in Atlanta is a self-storage conversion and new construction of a four-story building joined seamlessly for a total facility. The original building was erected in the 1920s and was formerly owned by A.C. White Transfer & Storage Co.

The neighborhood in which Storage Neighbor resides borders the Atlanta BeltLine, the most comprehensive revitalization effort ever undertaken in the city, and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects currently underway in the United States. This sustainable project is providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22 miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown and connecting 45 neighborhoods directly to each other.

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