Business

Climate-controlled storage growing in Cedar Rapids

Derecho, seniors selling homes driving expansion

U-Haul rentals are parked at a former Younkers at Westdale Town Center in Cedar Rapids where the company opened a storef
U-Haul rentals are parked at a former Younkers at Westdale Town Center in Cedar Rapids where the company opened a storefront. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

After the Aug. 10 derecho caused significant damage to Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in Iowa, many residents needed to safely store antiques, computers, electronics, furniture, paintings and other valuables until repairs could be completed or new permanent housing could be arranged.

In addition, as Iowa’s aging population is moving out of traditional single-family homes into condominiums or assisted-living complexes, downsizing is increasing demand for storage.

“They don’t want to sell their stuff yet and they don’t want to give it to their children,” said James Schmitt, owner of That’s Storbiz, which opened in Cedar Rapids mid-2018.

“They’re hanging onto it until they decide what they are going to do with it or they want to be able to access it.”

Traditional self-storage with temperature and humidity extremes can lead to deterioration for many items in storage. Wood can become warped, cracked or rotted from moisture exposure, while leather can become discolored and is susceptible to mold and mildew.

Electronics can become cracked or rusted. Paper items, including photographs, can disintegrate or become illegible.

Climate-controlled self storage is designed to maintain steady temperatures and humidity. Although there is no industry standard, climate-controlled storage typically maintains a constant temperature between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Existing big-box stores, such as vacated former Kmart, Sears, Toys “R” Us or Younkers, is less costly to convert to climate-controlled storage as they already have heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

“That’s roughly 50 percent of the cost,” Schmitt said.

Amerco Real Estate, a division of U-Haul, bought the 100,000-square-foot former Younkers department store in Westdale Town Centre in May 2019 for $3.8 million.

Its first floor was transformed into climate-controlled self storage.

Affordable Family Storage of Omaha recently converted the former Toys “R” Us store at 2425 Wiley Blvd. SW into a combination of climate-controlled and regular self storage.

The company opened its first facility in 2014 in Council Bluffs and has expanded with similar conversions to a total of eight climate controlled storage facilities in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Hilltop Storage, 5055 16th Ave. SW, recently added climate-controlled storage with the conversion of a building that formerly housed a church.

‘Not chump change’

Constructing new climate-controlled storage from the ground up is an expensive proposition, according to Seth Green, owner of Green Acres Storage, which has locations in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Dubuque, Waterloo and Ankeny.

”Right now, we are trying to propose one for Marion,” Green said. “It takes about a year to get through the process and another year to build it.

“In two years the market can totally change, but we will have invested $100,000 in engineering, architecture work, development and bought the land. We invested $6.5 million for the one in Ankeny, which is not chump change.”

How many units of standard and climate-controlled storage are needed in a market the size of Cedar Rapids?

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“I think this market is really overbuilt and you are going to see rates going down,” Schmitt said. “I don’t know what people are going to do to fill their spaces.

“I think we normally would be seeing it now, but the derecho really changed the game. If you call me in six months, I think our occupancy is going to be down 20 percent versus what it was in April.”

Green agrees that the market is overbuilt, particularly on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids after U-Haul converted the former Younkers building.

“Before we took over, Affordable Self Storage (at 5141 16th Ave. SW and 2120 Scotty Dr.) had an occupancy of about 65 percent,” Green said. “After the derecho we got to 90 percent, but what happens when those people get their houses fixed up, find permanent housing or a different solution?

“They are going to move out and we’re going to be scrambling. The customer is going to benefit because rates will come down.”

Roughly one in 10 households rent a self-storage unit and annual industry revenue totals nearly $50 billion. About 70 percent of self-storage customers are residential, with the other 30 percent split between businesses, students and the military.

“The owners of a small restaurant can only rent what they need and maximize that square footage,” Green said. “Things like paper products that don’t have to be there until they are needed can be stored off-site.

“They may have some catering equipment that they only use once in a while.

“We have had a furnace filter company that had them shipped directly to storage. There are companies that really don’t need a storefront.”

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Another factor contributing to the expansion of self-storage facilities is the involvement of real estate investment trusts.

There are about 50,000 self-storage facilities throughout the country and many are owned by real estate investment trusts, according to Seeking Alpha, a New York-based content service for financial markets.

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