2021 Facility of the Year Construction Winner: Life Storage at the Promenade, Scottsdale, Arizona

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From its earliest planning, the team that brought to fruition Life Storage at The Promenade in Scottsdale, Ariz., faced a monumental design, engineering, and construction foe that “seeks its own level,” as the old saying goes—water.

The self-storage facility’s site was a three-acre, 20-foot-deep water retention basin; the purchase of which “most developers would have passed on,” the facility’s owner, architect, and construction company wrote in what turned out to be the winning submission for Mini-Storage Messenger’s 2021 Facility of the Year award in the construction category.

The facility’s owner, 1784 Capital Holdings of Scottsdale, bought the property in 2016. Tarik Williams, vice president of the facility’s builder, Gilbert-Ariz.-based TLW Construction Inc., says it was the most complex construction and engineering project he has worked on in Arizona. The project went through several design iterations. The original design proposed constructing the building on stilts, using caissons to place it above the water retention basin, which would have enabled the stormwater to drain directly under the building. That proposed design, though, prevented creating a building with sufficient square footage to make the project economically feasible.

The second proposed design placed the loading and unloading areas on the building’s north side, sharing a driveway with the Lowe’s Home Improvement store adjacent to the property line. That proved problematic because it was the Lowe’s store’s loading area, and they were protective of traffic entering and going through their loading area, says Kelly McKone, 1784 Capital Holdings’ executive vice president of realty. But McKone established and maintained good working relationships with the municipality, seller, and neighbors in order to obtain necessary approvals, agreements, easements, and access.

The site was “extremely tight” because of the Lowe’s loading area to the north and Paradise Lane to the south. The basement footprint abutted the Lowe’s loading dock, preventing excavation of that area. Handling all the 87-acre shopping center’s stormwater remained a problem. The solution: a new, deeper retention basin directly east of the building with vertical instead of sloped walls to increase volume and a big water pump.

“The answer was to shore along that wall, using shotcrete and the same water barrier system used on the east side,” according to the award-consideration submission. “The basement envelope of the building extends beyond the upper floors, so TLW used a system they developed for previous projects, which consists of a series of structural concrete and moisture barrier layers, topped by a protective concrete layer that makes the entire surface watertight.”

Williams says the entire property was a 20-foot-deep retention basin with sloped walls. Now, the facility occupies half that basin with no water retention, and the other the other half is 24 feet deep with sheer walls for more water retention volume. The old retention basin is gone.

The retention area is about 15 feet deeper than the basement’s level, according to Williams. TLW Construction built a dam to isolate half the original basin to enable construction of the building while rerouting any water that might enter the site. The water was first routed to the west side of the site so construction could start on the new, permanent basin with steel-reinforced concrete columns three feet in diameter placed 50 feet to 60 feet into the ground bordering the area.

Eight to nine feet of water in the new retention basin could rise and press against the building’s exterior wall, which required extensive waterproofing. The basement also includes several drains in a hallway along the east wall of the basement to route any water that might make its way in away from the storage area and into the foundation pump.

A 6-foot-by-8-foot concrete culvert was installed, and storm pipes redirected into the retention basin in order to start working on the building envelope. Stormwater drainage would have been blocked during that process, exposing the entire site to effects of bad weather.

“I think it was the day prior to the first big rain event during this construction project that we got it all linked together,” Williams says. “Just in the nick of time.”

A large section of the basin is underneath the facility’s parking lot, which required managing civil design on top of building design to ensure sufficient load-bearing strength, per Williams. To get power into the building, they fully encased the power conduit in concrete, where it comes through the basement, which is an unusual construction feature.

Initially, the project site was a mosquito-ridden basin with overgrowth everywhere, says Williams. In the end, it underwent a “total transformation.” The team took an unusual extra step of salvaging some logs from mesquite trees in the overgrowth, taking them to a furniture maker who made a couple of tables from them, and then giving the tables as a gift to the client.

Years In The Making
The team also faced difficulties with obtaining the city’s approval for the project. After three to four years strictly for the design process, they met several times with the city’s engineering department, which was “on the brink of not approving the project,” Williams says, as it was “uncomfortable with the retention basin scenario and the safety associated with building it that way.” 

“They saw that mucky, mosquito-laden space for what it was at the time and had a hard time visualizing a clean, dry, occupiable building built in its place,” says Williams. “It took awhile of hand-holding. The renderings, the elevation, that look and appearance has been in place since 2007 or 2008 when the prior landowner got the property properly zoned for storage. It’s more of a traditional Scottsdale, Central Arizona Native American theme, which is really nice—the colors and textures.”

Robert Kubicek, president of Phoenix-based RKAA Architects Inc. and the facility’s architect, agrees that the most notable aspect of its construction was solving the retention basin problem after several design iterations. A self-storage facility’s design rarely requires huge draining pipes underneath the building, he says, but it proved to be a better way than the earlier designs had proposed. The project’s design, engineering, and construction challenges made it “a unique situation.”

“It took some special work,” Kubicek says. “We had to make sure the wall that butts up to the lower levels of building was waterproofed correctly. It was unique in that it was worthless land in many ways. It was just a big retention pond, so we were able to put a 100,000-square-foot building in there and make it worth something. … The civil engineering was pretty intense.”

As Kubicek notes, most cities are unenthusiastic about self-storage because it brings little tax revenue and few jobs. In this case, the city favored a new office building rather than self-storage. 

Life Storage at The Promenade’s interior construction was standard, light-gauge steel. Its office has more windows than many other self-storage facilities, and “it’s a good-looking building, as you would think the city of Scottsdale would require,” Kubicek says. “They want all buildings to look good. It doesn’t matter what it is.”

Kubicek is not surprised the project won the award, because it was “quite a feat and it actually worked. And the building hasn’t flooded yet. How about that? Hats off to the construction company. It leased up pretty quickly. It’s the right location. And we never had to shut down anything in the retail and commercial center during construction.”

Other project challenges included ensuring the building’s design blended in with the rest of The Promenade while giving customers easy access to the storage facility. The fully enclosed loading area with sufficient space to accommodate moving trucks required raising the roof line and moving the mechanical equipment from the roof to condensing pads around the building to meet the city’s height requirements. Rytec doors, which open and close in about three seconds for quick entry to and exit from the facility, also were installed. 

Stellar Stats 
Life Storage at The Promenade had 7.7 percent occupancy at the end of December 2020, and that increased to 50 percent as of late October 2021, according to McKone. He attributes the unusually fast lease-up to the facility’s good location and overall quality. Its location is its greatest strength because the shopping center and the Scottsdale Airpark commercial area bring a lot of traffic. Access and signage are other strengths. 

Sung Chun, Life Storage’s area manager, says the facility’s cleanliness, security, and ease of access make it a standout among the 22 stores he manages in the Phoenix metropolitan area. 

“There are 98 cameras throughout the whole property, so our security is like Fort Knox,” Chun says. “In addition to the cameras, we record every activity that happens on or outside the property and we have what’s called Smart Eye, which records anything that happens outside our regular access hours.”

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the facility’s lease-up, because customers are able to rent their spaces using Life Storage’s contactless Rent Now program, which allows everything from signing a rental agreement to opening the unit to be controlled using a smartphone app. Sanitation protocols ensure customers’ safety. Three commercial-grade freight elevators move customers and their belongings to the floor below and the floors above ground level.

“We are all about the customer experience,” McKone says. “The width of the loading area, the amount of natural light, easy access to the office, minimizing the space to the units—we work hard to make sure all of it comes together to make it a good experience. It’s a step above the typical self-storage property. We put our offices in with lots of glass. It’s easy to find and it oversees the loading area. The floors are clean and shiny, the quality of finishes. It’s an upgrade facility. Life Storage does a phenomenal job managing it.”

1784 Capital’s projects are either drive-thru or pull-in, “like a big garage,” McKone says. The company designs them for a “superior customer experience.” 

“My goal is that somebody walks out of there and says, ‘Wow. That was nicer than I thought it was going to be,’ and it’s a good experience for them.”

McKone noted that Phoenix’s temperatures can hit 110 to 115 degrees, “and nobody wants to be unloading a U-Haul into their storage or getting in and out of the car, so that’s why we try to create areas that are protected from the environment.”

Some customer reviews of Life Storage at The Promenade included in the written submission for the award, clearly demonstrate that McKone accomplished his goal: 

  • “This place was so amazing. I am a big fan of excellent design and functionality, and this place blew me away with how easy it was to use their carts, elevators, and perfectly flat floors! The carts were designed to fit two deep in the elevators, and it was super easy to move even our bulkiest large pieces. They were super thoughtful on every detail, including customer service like ice water and reminder cards for our lock code. It really was great. Excellent lighting and clean air and no bugs. Definitely store your stuff here for sure.” -Richard Lawlor, five-star Google review
  • “This is my favorite place to store my stuff. I love the contactless service when signing up to rent and move in. The music playing through the speakers is great because I find myself dancing and singing to the oldies while sorting. It’s super clean, easy access, and carts are always available. The elevator was convenient and a great size for larger furniture. When I went into the office, everyone was nice and helpful. The bathroom is always clean.” -Charity L., five-star Yelp review
  • “I have moved 12 times in 20 years and have used several storage facilities during this process. This is BY FAR the best. Super clean, friendly, and knowledgeable staff make for a pleasant experience! Climate control and even the use of a box truck on availability. I can’t stress enough about how great this facility is!” -Michael Lutman, five-star Google review 

Making It Work
1784 Capital Holdings considers Self Storage at The Promenade a good self-storage site because it is near luxury apartments and condominiums and upscale businesses.

“We calculate demand by looking at the site itself, the surrounding population, the incomes, and the existing products,” says Ben Mueller, 1784 Capital Holding’s analyst. “Promenade met all of those factors.”

By Williams’ calculations, maybe one or two sites in the country are more challenging to build on than The Promenade. “1784 Capital Holdings is very good about taking on difficult projects and figuring out a way to make them happen,” he says.

When asked what advice he had for developers attempting to tackle a project as complex as The Promenade, Williams says the process of assembling the project team is crucial.

“Some developers really like to make decisions of who’s on their team based on competitive bidding, and then they take lowest bid,” he says. “I think there’s a place for that. For a project like this, price has to be a consideration, but more important is the team’s qualifications. Evidence of prior work and current knowledge is key.”

Reaching Customers
To spread the word about Life Storage at The Promenade, the team utilized four main marketing strategies, including:

  • Online advertising including social media such as Facebook
  • Advertising using geofencing and services such as Hulu
  • Google advertising to compete with local self-storage competitors
  • Direct mailing within the immediate vicinity for potential local customers 

Facility opening date: Oct. 23, 2020; certificate of occupancy, Jan. 15, 2021

Rentable square footage: 101,055 square feet

Number of units: 1,090

Current occupancy: 50 percent as of late October 2021

Owner: 1784 Capital Holdings 

Architect:  RKAA Architects Inc.

Builder: TLW Construction Inc.

Security: AZ Star Communications

Management software: Life Storage of Gilbert

Roof system: Starkweather Roofing Inc.

Door system: Janus International Group

Interior system: Janus

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