It’s no secret that land is scarce and
costly in urban areas, especially within retail areas of the desirable top 50
MSAs, and it’s an issue that self-storage developers will continue face as they
seek to develop new facilities in crowded cities with ever-increasing demand
for storage. The limited land has forced many storage developers to make every
foot count. Thus, they’ve been building up rather than out—a trend that has
become more common over the past decade.
While a multi-story facility can be a
more practical solution for a petite or peculiar parcel, nowadays they require more
ingenuity and planning than the original multi-story, big box storage sites mentioned
in this article’s accompanying sidebar. For starters, a single elevator for a
multi-story facility is practically unheard of today. What’s more, customers’
expectations have increased, building codes have changed, and cities have
“We almost never do one with less than
two elevators,” says Bruce Jordan, president of San Clemente, Calif.-based
Jordan Architects, Inc., who notes that projects almost always have two
elevators to minimize the customers’ travel distance to units and ensure that
at least one elevator is operational at all times. Caesar Wright, president of
Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mako Steel, concurs with Jordan, adding that most
projects with floor plans of 15,000 square feet or more have two elevators.
From basic to brilliant, here are some
of the various designs utilized for multi-story self-storage facilities:
Box – Due to somewhat recent changes to building codes in regards to
fire proofing, self-storage developers have been opting to build “one down,
three up,” as Wright puts it, which enables the project to stay within code and
maximize the square footage of the parcel. Since anything with more than three
stories above grade requires additional fire proofing, developers are building
one story below grade (essentially a basement level) to stay within code. Keep
in mind: Buildings over four stories must be fire rated, and fire rated
requirements can tack on $5 or more per square foot to a project’s budget.
“If the first
floor is 50 percent or more below grade, it doesn’t count as a story,” notes
Jordan, whose company has had success with below-grade levels. For instance,
they built a facility in Texas with two stories below grade thanks to the
chalk-like soil of the site. They were able to make a vertical cut into the
dirt, which is easier to shore, because the chalk soil is more stable and has a
high bearing load.
basement levels aren’t possible in every situation; obviously, they are not
feasible for areas below sea level or locations with high water tables. According
to Ted Culbreth, vice president of sales for Boerne, Texas-based SBS
Construction, the plot’s soil must be thoroughly examined by a geotechnical
engineer. “You must be very sure that what you’re doing site-wise won’t allow
the foundation to shift,” he says, adding that this is especially crucial for
multi-story facilities due to the elevator shafts. Moreover, basements can be
cost prohibitive if the dirt is of poor quality, requires testing and
remediation, or must be removed from the site.
Ramp – This particular type typically utilizes a fortress design with
single-story building on the perimeter and a pair of two-story buildings in the
center of the site. The outer drive aisles serve the first floors of all the
buildings, while a center (or middle) ramp aisle, at a 10 percent grade, is
located between the two-story buildings to serve their second floors. According
to Jordan, a 100,000-square foot facility can achieve 75 percent efficiency
with elevators, but this ramp design allows for 88 to 90 percent efficiency.
“The trend for typical two-story storage buildings is to discount
the second-floor rental units anywhere from five percent to 10 percent due to
the inconvenience of long travel distances and elevator travel to and from the
unit,” says Jordan. “In contrast, the two-story drive-up ramp is an innovative
concept that allows drive-up loading on the second floor. The two-story ramped
version negates the need to discount any second-story rental units because the
architectural design affords ground-level access to the entire second floor.
Tenants can access the first and second levels without the inconvenience of
loading and unloading their goods by means of an elevator. Eliminating
elevators from the project is a direct cost benefit to the project developer’s
bottom line. The ramped project complies with the Americans With Disabilities
Act. It also creates a more efficient unit-mix layout, allocating less building
area for corridors and vertical circulation.”
Over-Under – A sloping
site with eight to 12 feet of fall allows for the utilization of the over-under
design. With the over-under concept, two levels are accessible via separate
drive aisles: a lower drive aisle serves the first floor and an upper drive
aisle serves the second floor. Both drive aisles are joined via a 10 percent
sloping ramp on the narrow end of the building.
advantage here is in achieving much higher efficiency from eliminating elevator
shafts, machine rooms, and exit stairs as well as reducing internal hallways,”
Jordan says. “The over-under configuration will have many more
drive-aisle-accessible units and, hence, less need for interior hallways.”
Moreover, the over-under design reduces grading costs since the site doesn’t
need to be leveled. It also eliminates the need for retaining walls.
High-Rise Conversions – Some
office buildings in urban areas can make for good conversion projects. For
instance, Jordan Architects worked on a project in West Los Angeles where a
Class-A office building with three levels of parking below grade and four
floors above grade was converted into a self-storage facility.
warns that high-rise buildings may not be a good bet due to the different floor
loads. He notes that office buildings are built to withstand 75 pounds per
square foot, yet self-storage requires a floor load of 125 pounds per square
foot. Therefore, the conversion of an office building to self-storage would
require the developer to increase the load carrying capacity.
Although there are potential cost savings of building up, the planning can be
taxing. For instance, Tarik Williams, vice president of Gilbert, Ariz.-based
TLW Construction warns developers not to push the edges of the buildings too
close to the property lines as this can cause serious problems with the
utilities and the staging of the projects. He mentions that these tight
quarters leave little room for installations, materials, or equipment and can
even necessitate the use of flaggers for directing traffic (or temporarily
closing roads) during the delivery of building materials. Unloading materials
from trailers can be a hassle as well.
To alleviate this problem, Culbreth
suggest finding vacant land in close proximity to the parcel to stage materials
and shuttling the materials to the site. SBS Construction has utilized
neighboring parking lots and stored materials on other floors of a project
during construction. They’ve used cranes to move materials as well.
Wright also mentions that building to
property lines creates issues for the exteriors when a site is surrounded by
existing structures. He recommends that self-storage developers build exteriors
in masonry “all the way up” if they must build to the property lines. “You
can’t get the equipment up,” he says. “And it’s almost impossible to get trades
Placement of the elevators and the
unit mix are two other important aspects that require ample consideration when
developing multi-story facilities. Culbreth reminds developers to carefully
plan the placement of the elevator shafts. “The elevator penthouse goes through
the roof, and that should be designed to prevent roof leaks,” he says, adding
that a proper location can reduce leaks around the elevator shaft. In addition,
the elevator’s mechanical room/pit must be accessible in case the hydraulic
As for the unit mix, these
professionals agree that it’s best to place the largest units either on the
first floor or near the elevators. Smaller units can be located on the higher
floors and/or in remote areas of the buildings.
Before You Build Of course, it’s always best to have a crew in place before you break
ground, but Culbreth suggests getting your team involved long before then.
“Have your design team assembled before site selection,” he says, adding that
the expertise of a civil engineer, geotechnical engineer, and an architect will
make the site selection process more successful.
Wayne Woolsey, partner of Kiwi II
Construction, agrees. He encourages developers to conduct thorough research,
especially with the ever-changing building codes and stringent design criteria
of planning departments.
“In the future, multi-story has to
happen,” says Woolsey. “In the top 50 MSAs and urban areas, developers must
find smarter ways to build.”
Sidebar WHO CONCEIVED THE FIRST MULTI-LEVEL,
ELEVATOR SERVED, AIR-COOLED, SELF-STORAGE BUILDING?
By Greg Lee
His name is Don Emch. I met Don in the
early 1970s when I was the chief appraiser for Continental Bank, which later
become Chase Bank. Mr. Emch was a successful Phoenix apartment developer. Our
bank financed his apartment projects.
In 1972, Mr. Emch wanted to develop
one of the first single-story self-storage projects. The site was at 59th
Ave. and Colter in Glendale, or West Phoenix. My recall is he paid about $1 per
square foot for several acres of industrial zoned land. I appraised it for the
construction and permanent loan. Mr. Emch provided rent comps from Texas, as I
did not know of any in metropolitan Phoenix. The improvements had been bid-out
by Mr. Emch at approximately $4 per square foot. To appraise the project, I
recalled estimated vacancies at 10 percent, expenses at 40 percent of effective
gross income, and for the cap rate I called two MAI appraiser friends at Burke,
Hansen & Homan.
Jim Homan said it is essentially an
interim use and suggested a 15 percent to 16 percent overall cap rate. John
Hansen also suggested a 15 percent cap rate. So, I used a 15 percent rate. Mr.
Emch completed the project by late 1972 or early 1973. He reported for the
bank’s take-out lender that it leased-up quickly.
In August or September of 1973, Mr.
Emch came into my office. He sat at my desk, pulled up a yellow legal pad, and
drew a large box with a small box in one of the corners. He asked what do you
think is? I said it is a small box inside a big box. “No,” he replied. “It is a
three-story, fully enclosed, evaporative cooled storage building, and the small
box is an elevator. There will be large carts to bring items from their loaded
vehicles to the ground floor or elevator.”
I said it was a brilliant idea and
asked where he would locate the first building. He said he had found a site
behind a Circle K convenience store off the southwest corner of 27th Ave.
and Missouri (2763 W. Missouri). It was just west of the freeway. It was zoned
C-3 and would allow an industrial use. My recall is he said he was going to buy
it for about $2.50 per square foot.
I thought the concept was great for
Phoenix with its high summer temperatures. I called Mr. Emch and asked if he
cared if I tried to find a closer-in site and to build a similar project. He
said you cannot copyright a real estate concept and I should go right ahead.
To test the concept, I took the first
weekend to visit his project at 5172 N. 59th Ave. My first interview
was with a young couple using a 5-by-10 locker. At that time, the rent for a
5-by-10 locker was $10 per month. I asked them if they would pay $12 per month
if the storage facility was near Camelback and 7th Ave. They said of
course, because their apartment was near 7th St. and Bethany Home Rd.
Several more people were interviewed.
They all said they would be happy to pay 20 percent higher rent if they had a
facility closer-in to the City center. I also asked if it would make a
difference is the units were evaporative cooled. All said yes.
The next research was to interview
potential office space tenants. My next-door neighbor worked at Cudahy Meat
Packing Company. The company’s office was on the 15th and 16th
floor of the Del Webb Townhouse off the northwest corner of Central Ave. and
Clarendon. I asked him if I could see where they kept their file cabinets. On
the 16th floor was a large conference room of about 800 square feet.
Then we went to the 15th floor, and the same size conference room
was filled with metal file cabinets. He said they would be happy to move the
files if secure storage was available nearby.
My second visit was to St. Joseph’s
Hospital at 3rd Ave. and Thomas Rd. I met with one of their
administrators and asked where they keep their old medical files. She took me
to the basement. There was a massive amount of square footage devoted to file
cabinets with medical records. She also said if secure storage was available
nearby they would use it.
The third was to visit the home office
Stewart Title on Central Ave. I met with an administrator. When asked “Where do
you store your old files?” he said they own an older, large, single-story warehouse
on E. Washington St., east of downtown. It was fully sprinklered but very
inconvenient for file retrieval.
Last, I went to the basement of
Continental Bank at Central Ave. and Clarendon. The basement had the vault with
safe deposit boxes, an IBM main-frame computer, and the rest was file cabinets.
The research was conclusive.
Next I searched for a site. The
required C-3 zoning closest to Central Avenue was on 7th Avenue,
north of Indian School and south of Camelback Rd. An abandoned service station
was at the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and Mariposa. The owner
wanted $75,000 for 16,300 square feet, or $4.60 per square foot. I got
preliminary drawings done and a preliminary contractor’s cost estimate at about
$8 per square foot for an approximate 29,000-square-foot, three-story building
with a one-bedroom manager’s apartment.
I needed a money partner. He was Tom
Osselear, who owned many apartment complexes. His company was called Sentinel
Management. We hired Cornyor & Hedrick in early 1975 to design the second
three-story, air-cooled, elevator-served, self-storage building constructed in
the U.S. Financing was not available in 1975 because of a severe real estate
recession and a new class of real estate being built.
Mr. Emch opened the first building of
50,688 square feet in early 1976 and Sentinel Mini Storage opened in the summer
of 1976 with financing from Continental Bank. The bank also became one of the
Greg Lee can be reach at (520)
296-0003 or email@example.com. End Sidebar
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and