By Amy Fuhlman
Milwaukee is associated with a few legendary industries. For example, cheese production can be traced back to 1877, and the ubiquitous “cheesehead” wedge can be seen everywhere from the airport to major sporting events.
And then there’s beer. According to the history, Milwaukee brewers used so many beer barrels that they were often forced to buy them from outside the state, thus incurring transportation costs. In fact, frequent barrel shortages in the city finally compelled the Pabst and Schlitz breweries to join forces to secure a constant supply.
But it wasn’t just the brewers who were concerned with transportation. In 1888, brothers Bill and Charlie Coakley launched their local moving and storage company, Coakley Brothers Co. Today, Peggy Coakley is the fourth generation to lead the business, and she’s been moving the company in new directions since she became CEO and president in 1998. One of her latest ventures is Stadium Self Storage, a conversion project near the Miller Park baseball stadium. The structure was the previous home of a subsidiary, Coakley Tech, which was vacated in 2012.
A conversation with general contractor and consultant Dave Murray, who owns Wisconsin Storage Corp. and operates two facilities in Wisconsin, sparked the idea for Coakley to convert her building to self-storage. Leaving no stone unturned, she contracted a feasibility study, the favorable outcome of which marked the first phase of her new venture. Here’s a look at her company’s journey and the challenges it faced to retrofit the empty building to self-storage.
Meeting a Need
The early-century building is in what used to known as Milwaukee’s smokestack community, a rustbelt area that housed much of the county’s manufacturing and industry. As the global economy changed and the emphasis on manufacturing lessened, many plants in the community closed, and the area was dubbed “Brown Fields.”
While stringent zoning and building codes in the city offer a high barrier to entry for self-storage facilities, it couldn’t be denied that the growing population within a three-mile radius of the location has needs. Multi-family dwellings for the nearly 230,000 residents offered very little storage space, so an aesthetically designed storage facility was viewed as a positive for Brown Fields. In addition, the property was already zoned for commercial use.
Due to its proximity to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, the name Stadium Self Storage left little doubt as to its convenience. With highly favorable traffic patterns, the facility is visible to tens of thousands of people daily.
Not surprisingly, this war-era building contained many features that were outdated for today’s use; but while there were many internal changes to be made, the structure itself had strong bones. Of particular note was the sheer size of the building. The height allowed for the construction of a mezzanine, which required a minimum height of 18 feet. The interior walls, cafeteria and outdated freight elevators were removed.
The mechanical systems required a major overhaul to meet today’s energy-efficiency standards. New systems as well as efficient glass panels were installed—all around Mother Nature’s delays in the form of harsh winter storms.
Those who embark on a conversion understand that part of the process is uncovering the unknown. For this conversion, it was the soil conditions. Externally, footings for the loading/unloading areas were complicated due to soil contamination from chemicals and petroleum products. Working in tandem with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and state officials, a remediation plan was developed rather quickly. In the end, about 600 cubic yards of asphalt millings from a nearby highway-reconstruction project were brought in to mix with the current soil, stabilizing and mitigating the overall content.
The exterior of the 70-year-old building required major renovation to make it relevant, connected and visible. The color scheme reflects the colors of the Milwaukee Brewers, with a gray and blue horizontal-striped exterior and large yellow doors. New, insulated windows were installed on the east, west and south faces, allowing passersby to look in and see the bright doors. It’s more than just visually appealing—it gives the building instant recognition as a self-storage facility and obliterates the once-used term “Brown Fields.”
Coakley has taken self-storage to new heights, adding renovated floors that were diamond-ground to create flat and bondable surfaces for the application of Corro Aqua Shield, a flooring system that reduces concrete wear and maintenance associated with a high-traffic facility. The facility also features visually stunning white corridors with immaculate hallways. It offers 47 unit sizes, ranging from 5-by-5 to 15-by-25, with a 14-foot ceiling height. Every floor is heated and air-conditioned, well-lit, and clean.
Stadium Self Storage offers extra-large, temperature-controlled loading and unloading areas that can accommodate up to 15 vehicles. The areas are supplied with an ample supply of heavy-duty platform trucks and pallet jacks. Two new elevators were also installed to facilitate movement from loading areas to storage units and minimize customer wait and moving times.
After an extensive search, Coakley met with veteran facility manager Tim Kallas, who hadn’t only managed other storage facilities, he’d been involved in several building renovations. Kallas brought to the project a proven concept of the perfect office space and a zest for customer service. From the Starbucks coffee to the resizable sample storage unit in the office, he based his design decisions around the self-storage customer.
To Convert or Build New
For those of you deciding whether to build a ground-up self-storage facility or convert an existing structure, consider your time commitment. A building with a strong external structure can be turned into storage in as little as half the time as a new build. And because this is a renovation rather than a land disturbance, the entire permitting process can go more quickly.
Internally, it’s rare that some sort of demolition of old heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems won’t be necessary. Adapting to today’s American With Disabilities Act requirements is paramount, and securing a door and hallway provider that’s flexible with building around odd-shaped nooks and fittings will best allow you to maximize your space. Be open to using storage lockers to fill some otherwise unusable areas.
As a lover of history and architecture, it pleases me greatly to see a converted building put to such good use for a neighborhood’s inhabitants. Stadium Self Storage sets the bar at a whole new level, and I’m excited to see what its next phases of development bring to the community.
Amy Fuhlman is the director of marketing for Janus International Group, a Temple, Ga.-based door and component manufacturer with eight global facilities. For more information, visit www.janusintl.com.