More than 100 years ago, a tobacco warehouse was built at the corner of 22nd Street and Granby Street in Norfolk, Va. Now the building is home to a thriving self-storage facility, AAAA Self Storage. The story of this transition embodies an emerging trend in saturated self-storage markets. Well-located facilities in dire need of renovation can undergo restoration to become valuable opportunities for new businesses. Leaders in the self-storage community believe the future will see more of this type of project.
The transformation of the 22nd Street building began in 1985 when the dilapidated structure was converted into Norfolk’s first multi-story self-storage facility. The original structure was retained and updated to current building codes. This involved adding stairs, elevators, air-conditioning and sprinklers.
In time, new phases were developed as the need for self-storage grew. In 2006, self-storage architects GMF + Associates were hired by the owner to give the existing building a facelift so it could better compete with a new rival across the street.
In a competitive environment where rental rates may be dropping, a renovated building may staunch the dip in rates or even allow for an increase. For existing tenants, a renovation might prompt a unit upgrade to meet previously unknown needs, such as climate control.
Left photo: AAAA Self Storage before the renovation.
Today’s challenging economy has self-storage owners contemplating capital improvements to existing facilities for a myriad reasons. Financing is much easier for an owner because the lending risks are much less for a proven business with a track record of income. Also, the cost to remodel an existing property can often be significantly less than a new project.
Material and labor costs are at an all-time low and general contractors are more willing to take on smaller (lower-margin) projects to keep their businesses afloat. Finally, construction is more likely to be completed on time and at a better quality since contractors are working on fewer projects and are able to demand better service from their subcontractors.
A New Look
The first step in the renovation of AAAA Self-Storage was relocating the customer entrance to a high-visibility and well-traveled street corner. The business office is not only prominent and inviting to passersby, but it was outfitted with state-of-the-art electronic management equipment and retail-merchandizing displays. Storefront glazing was added at the new office area, providing visibility and accessibility for pedestrian entry.
On the façade, the original limestone panels with ornamental medallions under the new storefront windows were restored to help disguise the elevated existing floor level. New signage along with ornamental canopies raised the appearance of the building from the corner. In addition, new cut-out letter signage and metal awnings were added to complement the historical appearance while meeting setback requirements.
A covered vehicle entrance adjacent to the sidewalk door was configured with a ramp for handicapped entry directly for the sidewalk. This proved to be a very tight fit and involved field adjustments as well as negotiations between the code officials and architect during construction.
The AAAA facility has recovered its initial appeal to new customers in spite of the surrounding competition. The final result of the renovation for this project is a case study in technical ingenuity and aesthetic sensitivity that can be an example for other facilities hit hard by the recession.
Chris Nason of GMF + Associates is a licensed architect with a wide range of commercial and residential architectural expertise from years at some of the country’s most renowned architectural firms. Chris Elam is the firm’s commercial projects director, with extensive experience in a variety of commercial project types and sizes. He specializes in office remodeling and self-storage. For more information, visit www.gmfplus.com.