Phoenix-based U-Haul International Inc., which operates more than 1,300 self-storage locations across North America, has received initial approval to convert a former Montgomery Ward store in Lower Burrell, Pa., to self-storage. The property in the Burrell Plaza near the intersection of Leechburg and Wildlife Lodge Roads has been vacant for 16 years, according to the source.
The Lower Burrell Planning Commission unanimously approved U-Haul’s proposal on May 17 to build a retail store and storage facility at the site. U-Haul would keep the existing structure, but replace the roof, exterior façade and parking lot, the source reported. The building would include 3,000 square feet of retail and showroom space, a 15,000-square-foot general warehouse, and nearly 70,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage space. Once complete, the property could become the company's regional headquarters, a U-Haul official told the source.
“The existing building has been sitting vacant for many years and has become an eyesore. U-Haul is thrilled to step in and revitalize the area,” said Ean Livingood, marketing company president of the U-Haul Co. of Northwestern Pennsylvania. “We have plans to begin construction as soon as we own the property, and will open our doors in mid-July.”
The property was purchased for $5 million in 2005 by Widewaters Lower Burrell Co., a division of Widewaters Group, a real estate firm based in Syracuse, N.Y. Under the U-Haul plan, the site would be subdivided into three lots, with the empty Montgomery Ward building being sold to U-Haul. The second lot, formerly a J.C. Penney store, would remain vacant. The third parcel would be maintained by Widewaters and occupied by First National Bank, the source reported.
Because the proposed U-Haul site is zoned commercial, a special-use permit will be necessary to use the space as a warehouse, the source reported. U-Haul will present its plan to the city’s zoning board next month.
City officials have sought developers to repurpose the 28-acre plaza since 2005 when J.C. Penney moved its operations to the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer, Pa. Montgomery Ward left the site in 2001 when the company went out of business.
Mayor Richard Callender hopes the U-Haul property will attract another company interested in developing the remaining property. “I've already reached out to some developers who thought the whole building was just too big. With half of it sold, the Penney's side is much more attractive to buyers,” he said.
Established in 1945, U-Haul owns more than 44 million square feet of storage space. The company’s corporate sustainability initiatives, which support infill development to help local communities lower their carbon footprint, has led to dozens of conversion projects in recent years.