Wesley Chapel is its own little boomtown.
New restaurants are popping up on every corner. There is shopping everywhere you turn. Major sports facilities are breaking ground. Hundreds of new hotel rooms are almost ready to be booked. An avalanche of houses and apartments is under construction.
Wesley Chapel is a sexy place for developers.
But, the seemingly most popular business in the area these days might be the least sexy of them all: Self-storage facilities.
Within one roughly 10-mile radius, five storage facilties have landed on the local map the last two years.
A three-story, 80,000-sq.-ft. CubeSmart (with 94,000 square feet of storage space in all) on S.R. 54 recently opened, with another three-story, 80,400-sq.-ft. CubeSmart facility under construction, on S.R. 56.
Morningstar Storage, another three-story unit boasting 100,000 sq. ft. of storage, is currently being built in Wiregrass Ranch, behind the new Fairfield Inn.
The Storage Center In Wesley Chapel — arguably the most straightforward name of any local business — was putting the finishing touches at the end of May on a four-floor, 76,500-sq.-ft. facility off S.R. 56 and Trout Creek Dr. (behind WaWa).
And, developers have already met with the county about yet another 110,000-sq.-ft. storage facility, to be located behind the Walgreens on S.R. 54 and Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.
Why the explosion? It’s simple.
“There’s tons of money to be made,’’ says Patrick Rairigh, managing partner of Rairigh Realty & Investments, LLC, “and they are a great business to own.”
The facilities are inexpensive to build, have low overhead costs, require few employees — some can be run by less than a handful of workers — and have great profit margins, Rairigh says.
When it comes to investments, self-storage has proven to be safe and reliable.
It is a $38-billion industry, according to SpareFoot, a company that covers the storage industry. While the vast majority of the facilities are mom-and-pop owned, it’s no wonder that many are backed by Real Estate Investment Trusts, also known as REITs.
Nearly 1- in-10 Americans pay an average of $91.14 per month to store their overflow in more than 50,000 self storage facilities across the U.S., offering more than 2.3 billion square feet of total rentable space. The average price in Florida is closer to $88 a month.
The five aforementioned new storage facilities in Wesley Chapel offer roughly a half-million square feet of previously unavailable storage space.
Those facilities, which offer a variety of unit sizes (a 5’ x 10’ unit, for example, is the most popular size in Florida, which would run you $100 a month at the recently opened Cube Smart on S.R. 54) generally operate at an 80-90 percent occupancy rate.
The industry even spawned a hit reality television series on the A&E Network, “Storage Wars,” which followed professional scavengers who would bid on storage lockers that had been abandoned or were no longer being paid for.
According to SpareFoot, the self-storage industry as we know it today got its start in the Midland-Odessa area of West Texas in 1964, when two local oilmen constructed a building for customers to house their belongings.
Russ Williams and stepson Bob Munn called it A-1 U-Store-It U-Lock-It U-Carry-the-Key, which today sounds like someone trying to get their business web hits with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but back in the 1960s it was merely a ploy to get listed near the front of the Yellow Pages.
The two men built six more facilities around Odessa, and expanded to places like Austin and Houston. The bigger players in the “biz,” like Public Storage Inc., currently the largest self-storage company in the U.S., didn’t arrive until 1972.
Storage facilities may be money makers, but they aren’t exactly the kind of businesses that excite county planners or chambers of commerce.
North Tampa Chamber of Commerce CEO Hope Allen has been a happy promoter and champion of new businesses coming to Wesley Chapel and creating excitement in the community, but she is more muted about the recent proliferation of storage facilities.
“Demand is going to drive the market,” Allen says. “If that is what is driving the market, then so be it.”
While there is no doubting their money-making prowess for investors and developers, there are areas around the country that are now recoiling in the face of the self-storage industry’s impressive growth, as saturation becomes a major concern.
Last year, Collier County commissioners considered placing a year-long ban on some businesses, like storage facilities, along a 7-mile stretch of U.S. 41 to encourage, “more desirable land uses, such as restaurants, hotels and stores,” according to the Naples Daily News.
“We don’t have any rules like that,” says Ernie Monaco, acting planning and development director for Pasco County. “If there was no need for them, believe me, they wouldn’t be building them.”
Besides, there is currently nothing the county can do to stop developers from building them.
“At the end of the day, people are investors and want to make money,” Monaco says. “We don’t own the land.”
Monaco says the self-storage expansion is, however, yet another indicator of Wesley Chapel’s growth.
The more houses and apartments that are built, and as more businesses move here — Raymond James Financial, for example, is expected to add more than 700 jobs to the area — more people will be moving in.
And, with new homes getting smaller and smaller, they will need a place to store their things. Plus, many baby boomers are downsizing. Over-55 adult communities are in the works in Wesley Chapel, and older residents relocating to the area from the Midwest and Northeast will need to find replacements for their attics and basements.
Storage solutions aren’t just for families who have outgrown their homes or apartment-dwelling downsizers — or even people who are trapped in the consumerist cycle of ordering things they don’t need from Amazon and other easy-to-buy-from websites — but small businesses as well.
Allen and Monaco’s greater concerns center on the storage units taking up valuable space in prime areas they feel could be better used for commercial or industrial projects that create more jobs.
To meet demand, storage facilities have evolved from rows of garage-like units in discreet locations to accommodating and comfortable buildings offering free Wifi in more convenient and high-profile locations.
Monaco says more and more developers of self-storage facilities “want the visibility.”
The two CubeSmarts have roadside locations on the area’s busiest roads, and the Storage Center In Wesley Chapel, while more tucked out of sight, is directly behind a popular and heavily-trafficked Wawa.
However, these aren’t your Daddy’s self-storage places, either.
The recently opened CubeSmart on S.R. 54 looks like a large office building, and the Storage Center In Wesley Chapel could almost be mistaken for a small hotel.
When New Tampa was still in its development phase, like Wesley Chapel is today, it was almost impossible to get approval to build a self-storage facility.
“Years ago, Bruce B. Downs was the hardest spot you could find to put a storage unit,” Rairigh says. “They were ugly and no one wanted them.”
Rairigh Construction built the second self-storage unit ever located in New Tampa, and then sold it to Metro Self Storage in 2003. The first facility was built on Doña Michelle Dr. before also being sold to Metro Storage.
Another CubeSmart, the fourth-largest self-storage company in the U.S., is under construction in New Tampa behind Christian Brothers Automotive on BBD.
Rairigh thinks New Tampa and Wesley Chapel, when the self-storage units currently under construction or planned are all built, is approaching saturation. But, the interest in building more hasn’t waned.
He says that over the last three years, he’s had a steady stream of investors and developers knocking on his door looking for sites. Price, he says, is not an object for potential suitors.
“The model has changed,” he says. “You used to need a lot of land to build them, but now you have climate control buildings that are more vertical. They take up less space because they can be built on smaller parcels of land. And, the builders are putting some money into them. They have nice facades, they look like they belong.
“Honestly, some look better than some of the office buildings.”