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More stuff than space: Self-storage is the latest boom in St. Petersburg

CubeSmart 401 34th St. N, is under construction at the old Mosley Motel site in St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Apr. 10, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Across the country, more than 50,000 self-storage facilities offer a place for Americans to keep their stuff.

City officials are unsure how many dot the St. Petersburg landscape, but say as many as 5,000 new storage units have been planned over the past five years.

With the seeming proliferation, City Council member Steve Kornell pushed for tighter regulations.

"What we realized was ... storage units are a very good investment, so we were going to end up with row after row of storage units on our main corridors, which kills the other economic activity around it," Kornell said.

A January 2017 amendment to the city code means storage facilities cannot occupy more than 25 percent of a development in certain areas. Newer buildings on the city's main corridors now are being tucked away or even camouflaged to some degree.

"They are trying to make them as innocuous as possible," said Dave Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development. "You see a lot of them with fake windows and stuff. Most of them try to look like something other than storage buildings now."

Altis Cardinal, which is building a $20 million, four-story self-storage facility on the site of the former Mosley Motel, is putting retail in the ground floor space facing busy 34th Street N. The self-storage building, expected to open in May, is part of a more than $100 million project that includes apartment buildings.

Farther south on 34th Street, Phillips Development & Realty is building a self-storage facility at the back of a planned mixed-used development in the Skyway Marina District. Visible from Interstate 275, it is meant to be a buffer for future apartment dwellers.

The spate of self-storage construction doesn't surprise Frank Guerra, founding principal of South Florida-based Altis Cardinal.

"St. Petersburg didn't see new self-storage development in a long time," he said. "It's a very underserved market relative to the increased population."

There's room for everything coming online, he said.

But Adam Mikkelson, president of Liberty Investment Properties in Orlando, developer of a recently opened facility with nearly 600 storage units at 1501 Second Ave. N, offers words of caution.

"Yes, it's been underserved, but as with anything, it can become overserved rather quickly," he said, acknowledging, however, that his company is piggy backing on the city's "fantastic growth and development."

Craig Sher, executive chairman of the Sembler Co., is a private investor in the project. Sher, with real estate investor Doug Bray and Will Conroy, a real estate lawyer and one of the developers of the Salvador downtown, are with Osprey Capital, the Tampa firm that is the majority investor in the new storage facility.

"It's really my second investment in self-storage. I think it's going to be fairly hot for a while," Sher said, pointing to such indicators as relocations from northern states, booming apartment and condominium construction and downsizing. "Homes and apartments and condos are all getting smaller, but that doesn't mean that we don't have stuff. People are reluctant to throw things out."

Mark Poole, Liberty Investment's director of operations and president of the Florida Self-Storage Association, said the company's St. Petersburg facility — managed by ExtraSpace Storage — is catering to a broadened customer base.

"The median age is early 40's. There are a lot of incoming families and also millennial growth," he said.

Poole added that household goods are still the primary items stored, but storage has become "a really good solution for businesses ... particularly in the downtown market."

"There's obviously a demand," Goodwin said, but storage buildings are not "always the most desirable land use."

He said the city's amended code particularly addressed construction of self-storage facilities in parts of downtown and Central Avenue, the Skyway Marina District, Central Plaza and the Gateway and Tyrone areas.

"If it is designed right and located properly and is the right scale, self-storage can be well done," Goodwin said. "We want to accommodate the demand, but we want to minimize certain aspects of that particular land use."

Developers of the new generation of self-storage facilities brag about drive-through bays, climate control and improved technology.

"We believe that storage should be an extension of your home. That includes clean, well-lit facilities offering the latest technology and security," said Poole of Liberty Investment.

He said the St. Petersburg project offers electronic leasing and electronic gate access with mobile phones. It's also climate controlled.

"You can drive in and not get rained on," Sher said of the 25-foot-wide, 16-foot-high covered loading bay that lets customers store and pick up their possessions out of the Florida elements.

The Altis Cardinal building also boasts of drive-through access and other amenities. "It's very modern," Guerra said of the facility that will be operated by CubeSmart. Depending on the configuration, it could accommodate as many as 700 units, he said.

With Central Florida one of the top areas in the state for self-storage business, St. Petersburg can expect more.

"It's a cool city," Sher said. "I think we're going to continue to grow, which means more people, more units, more stuff."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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