Look Who’s Talking – Nicole Posten-Thompson, RA, owner/architect, On Point Architecture
What do you get when you give a young girl a tub of Legos and a blank drawing pad? A future architect.
It’s not every day that a fifth grader, at the ripe old age of 11, recognizes their perfect profession through an introduction to a vocation. But that’s precisely how Nicole Posten-Thompson, RA, owner/architect of Mesa, Ariz.-based On Point Architecture, started her journey in the male-dominated business.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” says Posten-Thompson. “I studied architecture at Kent State [University in Ohio] and graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture in 2001.”
She then moved to Arizona to pursue a career in the sunshine, working for several architectural firms and learning the art of architecture. During that time, Posten-Thompson found her style as well as a stance.
“I quickly realized I was among the few female licensed architects,” she says. “Twenty percent to be exact.” Though half of architectural graduates are female, only 20 percent go on to become licensed architects.
So Posten-Thompson set out to achieve her dream and serve as an inspiration for other female architectural students by opening her own firm in 2016. “Yes, I’m a 100 percent woman-owned firm,” she says, adding that she started her company from home after having her third child. “I literally started the firm with my baby on my hip … I was drawing with him on my lap.”
Six years later, Posten-Thompson has an office outside her home and continues to “break barriers” with her “bad-ass” designs.
On Point Architecture is a full-service architectural firm that designs commercial buildings within Arizona. From planning to construction, On Point’s services revolve around customer satisfaction.
“I want to give clients the best I have to offer,” she says. “I help my clients achieve their end goals, and I get to improve the built environment with a higher purpose.”
Posten-Thompson has drawn designs for restaurants, retail businesses, office buildings, medical facilities, light industrial warehouses, and self-storage/RV and boat storage facilities. She’s also done remodels and tenant improvement designs. Her designs can be found within more than 20 communities across Arizona.
Her extensive portfolio includes designs for 11 RV and boat storage facilities and 15 self-storage facilities through her firm and a few others while working for other architectural firms. After being hired by StorAZona to design a facility in Peoria, Ariz., Posten-Thompson learned the nuances of the self-storage industry from Dr. Gene J. Couturier, DC, owner of Stor-AZona, LLC. “He basically taught me the business,” she says.
Posten-Thompson has incorporated Couturier’s insights into her self-storage designs to create functional and aesthetically pleasing properties for her clients. Moreover, her extensive knowledge of the building requirements throughout Arizona has enabled her to excel.
One of her most recent self-storage projects is San Tan Self Storage, a 117,229-square-foot, 924-unit property in San Tan Valley, Ariz. It could have been “ho-hum and casual,” Posten-Thompson says about Pinal County’s requirement for self-storage developments to mimic the appearance of office buildings from the street frontage. Instead, she created a contemporary streetscape with a façade of multicolored subway tile, modern steel paneling, and glass windows; a large roof overhang provides prominence as well as practicality. “The site fronts two roads, and both needed to present a well-designed building.”
Success RV & Boat Storage, a 252,180-square-foot facility in Vail, Ariz., is another one of her winning designs. The property, which boasts 366 self-storage units and 399 RV and boat spaces, is reminiscent of Arizona’s adobe-style homes with neutral-colored walls and terracotta roof shingles. The office’s triple-arch entryway gives the site an aura of elegance while a pop of turquoise around the windows adds even more Southwestern flair to the facility. Photos of these fetching designs and others, can be found on her firm’s website, www.onpointarchitecture.com.
Development And Design
Despite a flood of new development throughout the United States, Posten-Thompson says that “the market is still good in Arizona.” But much like the rest of the country, the lack of labor, materials shortages, and supply chain issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic still exist. “Everything is taking longer.” “It’s a busy market,” she says. “There’s lots of projects but they cost more and take longer to build.”
She mentions that the typical due diligence process has been extended, leaving developers wondering whether land is viable. “It’s harder to develop,” adds Posten-Thompson, who has found that cities are “wanting more from developers.”
“Mesa is difficult to get approvals,” she says. “I hope others don’t start limiting self-storage.”
Posten-Thompson reminds developers that the stigma about self-storage still exists. Ill-informed residents believe crime, traffic, and/or noise will increase if a facility is built in their neighborhood, which are common misconceptions about self-storage businesses. In truth, most storage properties are well-kept, as the majority of owners want to keep their valuations, as well as their reputations, up to snuff.
“They are the perfect neighbor,” she says, comparing self-storage to In & Out Burger. “They are quiet and have less traffic.”
These “hiccups” with storage opposition have resulted in more stringent design requirements. Similar to Pinal County, “municipalities don’t want the frontage to look like self-storage,” Posten-Thompson says, noting that she doesn’t think their desire for an office look will change.
To achieve the appearance of an office building, she utilizes large glass windows and decorative masonry. Unfortunately for developers, “all of that drives up costs.” She estimates that it currently costs a minimum of $90 per square foot to build a self-storage facility in the Arizona market.
When available and cost-effective, Posten-Thompson prefers designing with colored block masonry, which provides a finished surface that doesn’t need painted. “It looks nice and has a long, maintenance-free life,” she says.
Although it had been falling out of favor in recent years, she says that “there are ways to make metal look modern.” When appropriate for a project’s location and design, “dark colors and clean lines” can deliver striking exteriors.
She also favors using large panes of glass to showcase the site’s roll-up doors and hallways.
Before embarking on a self-storage project, Posten-Thompson says developers need to thoroughly “understand zoning.”
“It is a long process to rezone land,” she adds. “It can take a year, and sometimes it’s a battle.” She recommends to “plan for at least eight months if there are zoning issues.”
For that reason, Posten-Thompson advises developers to hire a zoning professional to expedite the process. “It’s worth bringing in a zoning attorney,” she says.
It’s also essential to attempt to erase potential opposition by educating citizens about the myths and benefits of self-storage. Informational “town hall meetings” can help alleviate their concerns and build rapport. Be sure to present yourself and your project in the best light possible.
Likewise, she stresses the importance of getting your contractor involved with the project early on to determine the budget. “Is it realistic?” she asks. “You cannot build RV storage with $250,000 these days.”
Perhaps most importantly, she says developers need to be patient.
“It’s a long process,” says Posten-Thompson. “It can be a year or more till you break ground.” Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, Self-Storage Canada, and MiniCo Publishing’s annual Self-Storage Almanac.