Within the second largest city in Texas, nestled in between two heavily traveled highways, stands a new self-storage facility that is virtually as monumental as the Alamo itself. In fact, Key Storage Sonterra, Mini-Storage Messenger’s 2019 Overall Facility of the Year winner, was designed to be a beacon for the bustling Stone Oak area of San Antonio in which it is located. And, thanks to the exceptional execution delivered by the project’s resilient design and build team, Key Storage indisputably serves as a guiding light for the region’s residents, especially in its glowing nighttime splendor that enables the facility to be seen from miles away.
Resting on top of a hill, Key Storage has high visibility from drive-by traffic. To the south of the facility is a major thoroughfare, Loop 1604; Highway 281, a designated superstreet that is poised to become a freeway in late 2020, is to the east of the site. Key Storage sits at the corner of the exit and entry ramps for those roadways on E. Sonterra Blvd in the affluent Stone Oak neighborhood of San Antonio that had a growing population of approximately 76,000 people in 2012.
According to Tom Brundage, owner of Brundage Management Company, Inc., and one of the self-storage industry’s pioneering developers, Key Storage’s greatest strength is its “interesting location,” which required some strategic negotiations with the neighboring landowner to obtain.
Although the long, narrow site was considered a smaller parcel of land, slightly less than 1.5 acres, Brundage recognized its potential. Therefore, he sought to acquire a portion of the adjoining property that belonged to CPS Energy for the frontage of the Key Storage site. His discussions with the electric company resulted in a land swap agreement. Essentially, Brundage obtained the desired 0.05-acre piece of CPS Energy’s property that included a shared access driveway in exchange for 0.22 acres to the rear of Brundage’s lot. This agreement was essential to construct a new driveway that would provide site access from E. Sonterra Blvd.
An Abundance Of Obstacles
The access driveway was just one of the preliminary hurdles that needed to be cleared before the facility could be constructed. First, there were several variances required of the city code, local homeowner association (HOA), San Antonio Water System (SAWS), and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that the architects, engineers, and development team had to attain. Approval was needed from the HOA for a setback variance at the project entry point, and a landscape buffer variance from the city of San Antonio was essential to maximize the footprint of the building.
After obtaining those approvals, there was a water main to move. The project would not have been viable without the relocation of more than 100 linear feet of existing 16-inch public water main that was within the property. Eventually, following multiple negotiation meetings with TxDOT, the development team was permitted to abandon the existing water easement and relocate the water main.
As a result of conflicts with other existing utilities within E. Sonterra Blvd., access to a sanitary sewer line was deemed unfeasible. The team submitted multiple plausible solutions for the issue to SAWS and TxDOT, but the two parties could not agree on any of those options. According to Jeffrey Dallenbach, AIA, managing partner of Dallenbach-Cole Architecture, the development team eventually proposed an on-site sanitary sewer septic system to treat the site’s waste. “This ended up with no need for governing group approvals,” he says, “and ultimately saved Brundage money by avoiding sewer impact fees and large construction costs of installing a gravity line across E. Sonterra Blvd.”
In addition to the sewer septic system, the project was required to treat runoff water. To tackle this mandated obligation, as well as the site’s lack of space, an underground water quality system was designed. It was installed beneath the drive lane that wraps around the north side of the facility.
As for grading, there is a slope to the site and a steep grade change of eight feet. Retaining walls were utilized where earthen grade transitions were not feasible.
With the site entitlements and planning completed, it was finally time to erect the facility. However, according to Charles Plunkett, CEO of Capco Steel, Inc., and Capco General Contracting, who served as the construction manager, building Key Storage was a complicated process. The most difficult aspect of the project was that “it was sandwiched in between parcels,” he says. This made it impossible for Plunkett and the construction crews to stage or store materials on site. The tightness of the site necessitated an “auto billing” approach, or what’s also known as a “just-in-time” delivery system. Basically, the materials were scheduled to arrive to the jobsite exactly when they would be used due to the lack of useable real estate.
Plunkett notes that parking was another hassle for the crews. Because of the major roadways surrounding the site, and only a handful of available parking spaces, workers had no choice but to park on the opposite side of E. Sonterra Blvd., which is a busy four-lane street. This problem was compounded when heavy machinery was required on site or deliveries were set to arrive.
A Modern Marvel
Despite the numerous challenges and the space constraints, the completed project, Key Storage Sonterra, is a sight to behold. Its design is both modern and progressive, with a futuristic flare reminiscent of a tech-savvy office building or European cubist architecture.
As a matter of fact, it was Brundage’s European design influence that resulted in the facility having two primary focal points instead of just one. Key Storage’s focal points are referred to as the “Twin Towers”; they are four stories high and extend above the office and loading bay. Other European design choices included the site’s extensive use of glass and window frames as well as the various contrasting vertical/horizontal elements.
The first focal point is the office, which is at the entry of the site on E. Sonterra Blvd. and near a traffic light that experiences frequent congestion. It is topped with a sleek “checkmark,” a newer brand symbol that Brundage has utilized in other Key Storage developments and plans to incorporate into future ones as well. Below the checkmark there are expanses of glazing to display Janus International roll-up doors in Brundage Management’s signature apple lime green color. The same hue was used for the numerous, custom painted window frames throughout the project.
The company’s trademark key, with the words Key Storage in the brand’s bright purple, hangs on one corner of the building. Fixed atop smooth stucco, the key sign, which juts just above the rooftop, is outlined in purple as well. A loading bay serves as the second focal point for the facility. It too features a checkmark in the way of a canopy. The canopy is both colorful and functional, with an internal drain system at the lowest part of the checkmark that directs water to an internal downspout concealed within one of the steel columns that supports it.
In the daytime, Key Storage Sonterra is nothing short of marvelous, but it is literally luminous at night. Thanks to a sophisticated lighting design, the entire facility actually glows in the dark. Because of the limited setback on one side of the property, flood lighting could not be utilized.
“I wanted to have it looking beautiful in the day and night,” says Brundage, who hired Joe Kaplan, an architectural lighting expert, and spent more than $200,000 to make the facility the nighttime beacon he envisioned. Special alcoves that are not visible in the daytime were incorporated into the building design to accommodate and conceal the strip lighting. At night, light in Key Storage’s brand colors shines out from the alcoves to illuminate the facility. Internal hallway lighting also shines through the various expanses of glazing for additional brightness.
Clean And Green
While it may seem like a lot of wasted energy to light up an 84,009-square-foot self-storage facility each night, Key Storage Sonterra was designed with LEED certification in mind. For starters, the site only uses LED lightbulbs to maximize energy efficiency, and most of the facility’s lights are set on timers or motion sensors. And some of the construction materials used for Key Storage Sonterra were recycled, including the concrete blocks and steel.
What’s more, the rooftop is lined with solar panels. Key Storage Sonterra has a 92.7-kilowatt solar energy system mounted on the roof that was supplied and installed by Self Reliant Solar. Since its installation on March 4, 2019, the facility has generated more than 74 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to provide more than 10 average American homes with electricity for a year. With solar panel systems at its other facilities, Brundage Management Company has received awards for being the top producer of solar power generated by privately owned solar panels in San Antonio.
Speaking of energy, Key Storage Sonterra utilized environmentally friendly landscaping to reduce its ecological impact. The landscaping, which is found around the perimeter along the east side of the facility and the storefront, includes an array of native species of shrubs, perennials, and trees that tolerate the Texas heat and require minimum amounts of water. Additionally, the goal was to make the property to appear as though the facility has been in the area for years. Therefore, instead of using one-gallon potted plants and trees, five-gallon pots were planted for their maturity. The landscaping also features two dozen huge boulders that were unearthed during the site work. To avoid the costs associated with crushing or hauling them, they were integrated into the landscaping. Last but not least, the landscaping watering schedule is controlled with a Rainbird ESP-Me Controller to conserve water.
Putting On The Ritz
As for Key Storage Sonterra’s interior, it’s as grand as the exterior. The 1,770-square-foot office features a plush seating area and a complimentary coffee bar, as well as a purple slat wall for packing, moving, and storage supplies. In addition to the purple display wall, which spans an entire wall, the Key Storage brand’s color palette is subtly repeated in the office. The wall behind the ADA accessible desk, where three flat-screen monitors hang to display a site map and security camera footage, is painted in a softer purple. A paler version of the brand’s apple lime green was used for the shelving and cabinetry that holds office equipment and supplies. Purple, rectangular wall sconces, which have been used in other Key Storage facilities, add a bit of colorful pizazz to the space. A signature popcorn machine, found in every Key Storage location, is stationed beside the coffee bar. Moreover, the furniture within the seating area matches the cubism architectural elements of the exterior, with boxy armchairs upholstered in a muted purple fabric, white cube end tables, and a white rectangular coffee table on a rectangular rug and square floor tiles. The office also includes ADA accessible water fountains and restrooms.
Posh finishes and stylish design elements were used throughout the on-site apartment too. The 2,376-square-foot apartment has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a living room, kitchen, and dining room within an open floor plan for its management couple to enjoy. Finished in neutral colors of ivory and beige, the apartment has numerous custom-made and upscale features. For instance, the bathroom vanity in the master bathroom was custom built and has two sinks. The 183-square-foot master bathroom also has a walk-in closet and tiled shower stall with a glass door and folding teak shower seat. Gold and taupe granite countertops can be found in the kitchen and both bathrooms. The 211-square-foot kitchen has a pantry as well as an island, and all its cabinetry was custom built from maple wood. Ceramic tile backsplash, pendant lighting, and sleek black appliances complete the spacious kitchen’s classy look.
While the entire building is bright and clean, that aspect is most evident in the property’s hallways, where every surface has a glossy sheen. Janus International’s glossy white was chosen for the hallway systems, roll-up doors, and ceilings for all three floors of the self-storage facility. To reflect even more light, the development team used polished concrete for the hallway floors. The concrete was ground and polished with special pads containing impregnated diamonds to give it luster. According to Dallenbach, diamond polished concrete floors are as durable and low maintenance as they are attractive.
Finally, to protect the developer’s investment and the tenants’ belongings, Key Storage Sonterra has an ample amount of high-tech security features on site. The facility is monitored through a CCTV system with numerous high-resolution cameras; the footage is then displayed on the three flat-screen TVs mounted behind the office desk. An intercom system is integrated into the CCTV to enable tenants to contact management from the facility’s keypads or simply enjoy the music that is audible through indoor and outdoor speakers. For an added layer of security, each storage unit has an individual door alarm from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Security Systems. PTI also provided the access controls for Key Storage Sonterra, which were installed at both entry and exit gates, at every entrance door, and within the two elevators. Domico Software is used for the facility’s management and accounting needs.
Continuing with the site’s uniqueness, Key Storage Sonterra has various unit sizes that are not industry standards. Brundage Management Company developed a unit mix that includes rare sizes such as 4-by-7s, 5-by-7s, and 7-by-10s to accommodate its tenants’ varying needs. Standard sizes are available as well, ranging from 5-by-5s up to 20-by-20s and 10-by-30s. And all 525 units, regardless of their size, are climate controlled.
In addition to on-site managers to assist tenants, Key Storage Sonterra provides customers with the ability to make online reservations through its website and access the facility gates and/or make payments with its mobile app. A branded moving truck is also available for new tenants to use for free during the move-in process.
Thanks to its concessions, as well as its overall allure, Key Storage Sonterra managed to reach 40 percent occupancy in its first four months of operation. The 58,500-net-rentable-square-foot facility, which offers military discounts and a $1 move-in special, is now 50 percent occupied.
“It’s better to be small and full than big and empty,” says Brundage, who adds that he didn’t want to build a four- or five-story facility. “I didn’t want to be like Rip Van Winkle, asleep for 200 years while it rented.”
A Shining Example
Though Brundage jests that he just “wanted to build a different mouse trap,” he actually managed to raise the bar for self-storage development once again with Key Storage Sonterra. And the key to his success was his unwavering commitment to quality.
“I said, ‘We’re building a monument; forget the cost,’” he recalls. “I think it stands out from the competition.”
Indeed, it does! Congratulations to Brundage Management Company and the development team of Key Storage Sonterra, our 2019 Overall Facility of the Year Winner!
Facility Owner & Developer: Brundage Mini Storage, Ltd.
Construction Manager: Capco General Contracting
Architect: Wright & Dalbin Architects
Doors & Hallways Systems: Janus International Group
Security System: PTI Security Systems
Security System Installer: Advanced Security
Management Software: Domico
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.