2023 New Facility Of The Year: Valley Storage – Knoxville, TN

Posted by Tammy Leroy on Feb 18, 2024 10:53:34 AM

The owners of Valley Storage in Knoxville, Tenn., spared no expense in offering a visually appealing, upscale storage facility in an underserved market where demand is high. Located in Knoxville’s Hardin Valley technology corridor, Valley Storage was designed to meet customers’ needs today while saving on operational costs in the future. The facility is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also excels in functionality and energy efficiency.


With 60,650 square feet of climate-controlled self-storage, spacious units, and auto, boat, and RV spaces, the facility will serve the needs of greater Knoxville for years to come. Commercial deliveries and large-scale residential moves are easy with Valley Storage’s convenient tractor-trailer access to the facility.


The 85,000-gross-square-foot facility offers 591 units and a spacious office as well as 38 outdoor parking spaces. The site is professionally managed by Atlanta-based Universal Storage Group (USG) and offers an array of amenities to its customers, including a self-serve coffee bar, complimentary cold bottled water, fresh cookies, and free Wi-Fi throughout the premises.


Hands-On Owners

With their backgrounds in construction and large-scale landscaping, Valley Storage Knoxville owners Scott Winslett and Greg Dee saved costs and accelerated the building process by acting as their own general contractors. Between them, they supervised or performed every aspect of the build from breaking ground forward.


Winslett, who has worked in the metal building supply industry, has been erecting self-storage for 14 years. Having seen many versions of how self-storage can be built, he had definite features in mind. “I have a unique perspective because I build so many types and styles,” Winslett says. His focal points were energy efficiency and high-quality finishes.


Winslett and Dee previously worked together building Dee’s first facility, which was completed in 2022. Along with two additional owners, this is the first facility they have owned together. Dee’s background is in landscaping and residential construction. He owns a multifamily property but has long been interested in storage.


“Several years ago, I started calling around to self-storage facilities to find some space in my local area,” Dee says. “I was shocked that these facilities that had 60,000 to 80,000 square feet didn’t have any units available.” He also realized he could get the same rent per square foot he was earning on his multifamily property. After finishing the first facility in April 2022, he was anxious to start again. His team broke ground on Valley Storage a few months later in July.


Dee and his landscaping employees completed all the site work for the facility. “I learned some things on the first facility,” he says. “We did not do the work then because I’d never built anything that large before, with multiple acres that involved moving lots of dirt. But after watching the site contractor on our first facility take longer than I thought he should, we decided to do it ourselves. We actually had a blast.”


Dee’s crew skillfully took on the grading, excavation, slab preparation, underground utilities installation, and landscaping. The addition of a well that services the facility and provides irrigation for landscaping was another cost-saving feature.

The 4.5-acre site Dee chose had been listed for sale for some time, but he initially passed over it. “I had a limit on the price of land,” Dee says. “It felt like more money than I wanted to spend, so I hadn’t considered this site before.” Located on prime land in the technology corridor, Dee later reconsidered. “There were already utilities on the site and access to the road we’re on,” he says. “After accounting for those things, I realized this was actually the same money we had spent on the first facility.”


Dee says permitting was relatively easy, as Knox County is not difficult to work with. With an initial feasibility study completed by USG and the site selected, he secured a loan with the bank that had financed the first facility and quickly moved forward.


Fast-Paced Construction

When Dee and Winslett acquired the land, they had to act swiftly, leaving insufficient time for a topography geothermal scan. There was uncertainty regarding the presence of bedrock, which could pose significant budget and timeline challenges. As excavation commenced, it became evident that a substantial amount of topsoil needed to be relocated. In fact, 500 tandem truckloads of soil would have to be relocated.


“You can’t build a building on topsoil,” Winslett says. “It was a hiccup, but we did it ourselves and got it out of there pretty quickly.” Dee’s crew removed the dirt, and he invested in a soil-filtering machine, which has allowed them to stockpile topsoil to sell to other contractors in the future.


Dee and Winslett were determined to leverage the property’s natural terrain and adopt a bi-level concept. In essence, both levels have “ground-level” access. Customers can access the lower level with a driveway that has a slight grade. This resulted in substantial cost savings as it eliminated the need for elevators.

Winslett was particularly eager to incorporate some superior products he had worked with that would ensure maximum energy efficiency and low maintenance.

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First was a specialty roofing system that features a PBR/metal deck ceiling. “We put an R-panel deck in the roof, then three inches of spray foam insulation, and then a layer of Sag-N-Bag,” Winslett says. “Then, we ran a continuous run roof panel with no mechanical laps. If there were to be a leak in the roof, it’s going to get stopped by that metal system.”


In addition, he used Superior Walls for the foundation walls, which are prefabricated concrete walls that are damp-proof and fully insulated. “It’s a thin sheet of metal on the inside and outside, sandwiching four inches of foam,” Winslett says. “It looks aesthetically pleasing and is superior when it comes to sound and R value. Our energy efficiency in that building is remarkable. Our first couple of power bills to run an 82,000-foot, climate-controlled facility were less than my power bills for my home.”


Fortunately, Winslett’s connections in the industry allowed him to negotiate excellent pricing on these high-end materials for the walls and roofing. Little Rock, Ark.-based Paramount Metal Systems picked up a significant part of the materials cost so that Valley Storage could serve as a flagship store. “When we were building, everything was inflated,” Winslett says, “but I had locked in a lot of contracted prices through relationships with metal providers, and they didn’t escalate on us too much.”


Winslett estimates it would typically cost 30 percent to 40 percent more for these exterior wall panels, and maybe 20 percent more for this type of roof. He expects that energy savings will pay for the extra costs within five years. Another energy-saving feature Winslett included is reflective glass in the large office windows. “I noticed over the years that people often had to put a secondary film over the windows to keep the heat out,” he says. “It was better to do this up front.”


In spite of its energy-saving features, the most important objective for Dee and Winslett in designing Valley Storage was to create a customer-focused design. The entire property is well-lit and monitored for security. In addition, each loading door features a large canopy so customers can load and unload out of the weather. A spacious parking area makes backing in easy, and even at busy times, there is ample room. The facility has accommodated as many as five moving trucks at one time.


Acting as their own general contractors meant that Dee and Winslett could build the facility at their own pace. “We maintained full control over every aspect, including finances and the timeline,” Dee says. “We completed the 85,000-gross-square-foot facility in just nine months—a monumental achievement in securing our certificate of occupancy.”


Interior Features

The facility’s doors and units were provided by Wilmington, N.C.-based ProSteel Buildings. Hallways are 4-foot, 8-inches to provide more rentable square footage. Winslett considered 5-foot hallways but decided in favor of retaining more rentable space. “The customers haven’t complained, and they aren’t beating up the hallways,” he says.


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In line with the design criteria, the focus was on selecting upscale, high-tech, and sturdy elements that harmonize with the continually evolving surroundings of Knoxville. This led to the choice of neutral interior and exterior color schemes that are timeless and sophisticated. The office furniture was meticulously handpicked to align with the upscale aesthetic.


Valley Storage’s 900-square-foot office features a contemporary blend of industrial and rustic features with clean lines and an upmarket ambiance. Dee built the live-edged tables and countertops himself, using tulip poplar and swamp ash. The wood adds an element of nature and warmth to the high-tech vibe. “Most storage facilities are not pretty, so the office is the only place we could really add a nice touch,” Dee says.


Valley 5USG’s property manager, Dena Green, notes that it’s a great convenience for customers that there are restrooms on both levels. “A lot of facilities don’t have that,” Green says, “so you would have to leave the facility to go to gas station or somewhere.” Another convenience is that customers can rent online and receive both an access code to the Sentinel keypad and a code for the Davinci lock on their unit.


Green believes the spacious, upscale office sets Valley Storage apart from competitors and makes it a great place to work. “I love sitting in the office and looking out the window,” she says. “The mountain view is absolutely beautiful.” The space also includes a retail area that offers residential and business customers a comprehensive range of moving and packing supplies.


Projected Growth

Green says marketing for the new facility has mainly been a grassroots effort. “We are going around to local businesses, handing out cards and flyers,” she says. “We’re talking to apartment managers and making sure they know we have space available.”


Lease-up on the new property has been steady, and the owners report that it is 50 percent over projections. “A lot of people are moving to Knoxville,” Green says. Hardin Valley is seeing rapid growth and a constant influx of new businesses, apartments, and condos. “It’s growing big, and it’s growing quick,” she says.


Dee and Winslett say that the project has transformed into what they envisioned: an incredibly spacious, convenient, secure, and dependable storage facility catering to the needs of the local community. “From its captivating visual appeal to the integration of various energy-efficient elements, we are extremely proud of the favorable results we achieved through our dedicated efforts,” Winslett says.


Green says the success of the property is largely a result of the time and care that went into its design and construction. “There was a lot of thought and care put into the building of this property,” she says, “and they are always looking to make improvements.”


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Owners: Greg Dee and Scott Winslett

General Contractor: Greg Dee and Scott Winslett

Design/Engineer: Mark Kawczynski, PE

Builder: Four Seasons Contracting, LLC

Accounting System: SiteLink/Storable

Access Control/Security System: Sentinel Systems

Doors/Units: ProSteel Buildings

Management Company: Universal Storage Group

Office Layout and Finish Materials: M. Anne Ballard of Universal Storage Group

Branding and Logo Design: Stacie Maxwell, Universal Storage Group



Tammy LeRoy is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is a long-time contributor to MSM.