When the developer of Congress Storage in Austin, Texas, sought an infill location for a new self-storage facility, the ideal site appeared to be in a historic community two miles south of downtown and approximately four miles from the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.
The South Congress neighborhood is known for its bohemian flair and is a popular destination for dining, shopping, music, and art. In this popular “SoCo” district, the average home listing price is $689,000 and the median monthly rent is $2,600.
But when Charles Plunkett, CEO of San Antonio-based Capco General Contracting, caught a glimpse of the confined site, he noted it was less than two acres with an elevation that was 20 feet higher than the main street. The facility site is set back over 80 feet from the street with only one access road flanked by two retail businesses fronting South Congress. Plus, an existing retaining wall surrounded the site that would have to stay in place during construction.
In other words, perfect for self-storage.
The tight site is representative of many new multistory facilities being developed today. Plus, the unique topography would ensure Congress Storage would rise above all other retail businesses in the district, standing high above street level. That is, assuming the developer, architect, and the contractor could devise ways to overcome numerous obstacles during construction.
The creative efforts taken to build Congress Storage and the striking result earned this project Facility of the Year in the construction category.
Overcoming Site Challenges
The 129,700-square-foot Congress Storage is located in the historic South Congress neighborhood where the Colorado River forms its border to the north and U.S. Highway 290 to the south. The area’s history can be traced back to the 1830s, when Congress was planned as Austin’s crosstown road.
Austin is a desirable destination for businesses and residents, leading the list of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. for several years. South Congress Avenue’s proximity to downtown has led to the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods. As the neighborhoods changed, the need for self-storage became evident.
The owner and developer, OSF Congress, LP, is an experienced real estate developer who was seeking an urban infill opportunity for self-storage when this site became available in 2015.
OSF had considered several storage locations and commissioned ARCHCON Architecture of San Antonio to analyze the sites for feasibility. The selected site is well located for storage; however, it had its share of challenges that had to be overcome during development.
The site size posed the first challenge. The site was too small to accommodate a typical drive aisle that loops the building. ARCHCON worked with the owner and coordinated with the city fire marshal to create a hammerhead turnaround (T-shaped) drive aisle design.
The design resulted in maximum usage of the site, so the building edges were located within 10 feet of the retaining walls on all sides of the property. Several engineering and global stability analyses were performed on each wall to determine the strength and suitability for the structure.
The project comprises two, four-story buildings including entire floors below grade, so the design also had to consider that one story of each building would be underground.
“Elevation and access to the site were logistics issues for us,” Plunkett recalls. “We had to figure out the logistics of moving our equipment in and out and how we would base the materials. In addition, the site was very restrictive for storing materials. We utilize on-demand delivery, and there were no materials that could sit on the project; they had to be delivered and used quickly. If not, they were going to be in our way during construction.”
Out of an abundance of caution about the effect of demolition on the retaining walls and adjacent businesses and residences, Capco decided to leave a generous distance between the retaining wall and the perimeter of the excavation to protect the walls from potential damage by the excavating equipment. Selective and difficult demolition was required around the walls, which called for extreme shoring and stabilization during construction.
Capco General Contracting, the project contractor, developed the idea of installing helical piers anchored into the earth and attached to the walls to provide additional support. Helical piers are like giant screws that are drilled into the ground and attached to the walls with large steel tubing supports.
The helical piers maintained the integrity of the walls during the basement construction, which included a complex water-proofing and subsurface drainage system below the building’s foundation.
It was apparent from the start that the build would be difficult. The project’s network of retaining walls, ranging from three feet to 25 feet high, needed to be protected during construction and excavation for the two building foundations. Excavating was going to be tough because the driveway is long, steep, and narrow.
Adding to the difficulty was that traffic entering or exiting the site uses the same driveway fronting on South Congress Avenue, a busy thoroughfare. Capco, which has been building self-storage facilities for 33 years and has operated in 38 states, was facing a formidable challenge for not only demolition and excavation haul-offs, but also for later concrete pours and managing construction traffic.
“What made the site difficult was that both buildings had basements and the only access was a hammerhead turnaround drive, so we had not only the exterior retaining walls to deal with during construction, but we also built the basement walls, which we had to manage around excavation and materials without much storage space around the building,” says Jack Salyer, senior project manager for Capco. “There was 10 feet of space between the building and retaining wall around two sides, so it was very difficult to get materials in and out and to excavate to get the dirt out of the basement.”
Trucks entering the Building 1 basement pit from the rear would have to make a U-turn in the pit, which would slow down excavation. The Building 2 pit was larger and would allow for a dump truck to enter the pit and turn around to exit the pit through the same entrance.
Capco was faced with the task of removing 22,000 cubic yards of dirt from the site. To manage excavation and haul-off on a small site with a narrow drive, Capco devised a plan to utilize the excavation pits for both buildings in a novel way. Dump trucks could move through in one direction and exit close to where the office is located. This solution helped speed haul-off traffic.
“We created a race track out of the building pads, so we could drive in one end, excavate the dirt, and drive out the other side of the L-shape excavation,” says Nicholas Bergmann, vice president and part owner of Capco. “We were able to keep materials moving out of the site while we excavated and built the basement walls.”
Overcoming the building’s visibility problem proved to be another challenge. An existing motorcycle repair shop dominated much of the property’s frontage. Plus, the storage site was set 80 feet back from the property entrance.
Since visibility from SoCo was of the utmost importance, the leading corner of the site with a raised elevation was selected for a tower element. This towering focal point adorns a sleek silver aluminum composite metal panel system in conjunction with a visual glazing system. Behind the glazing, dummy roll-up doors are illuminated to announce to passers-by that the business is a self-storage facility.
The buildings incorporate split-face masonry for the first-floor exterior, contrasted with industrial metal wall panels in silver and charcoal gray for the second- and third-floor exteriors. Differing panel profiles were designed to contrast with shading and panel direction to break up large facades and define entry points. The finishing touch to the design is bright red banding and roll-up doors.
Both buildings are steel framed with poured metal decking for the floors above the basement. The buildings have open framed canopies with roof panels that protect a sliding door entrance leading into an elevator lobby. A large drive-through canopy is shared between the two buildings to provide coverage to elevator entrances.
Energy efficiency is the hallmark of Congress Storage. The glazing utilizes thermally efficient Low E systems and the exterior masonry units are foam insulated. The buildings’ top floors have fully insulated ceilings. The drive-up climate-controlled units have insulated ceilings and insulated roll-up doors.
The roofing material is MBCI Signature 200 panels, 24-gauge material finished in solar white paint coating, which is Energy Star Qualified and can reduce peak cooling demand by 10 to 15 percent.
The placement of windows is generous, giving the interior an ample supply of openness and light. Each above-grade hallway terminates with a window at the end. Swing doors at each elevator lobby have oversized glass panes, allowing more light inside.
The second and third floors have window alcoves for the display of dummy doors, allowing the project to advertise its storage business. The doors are painted red, which attract attention day and night with the vibrant color.
The hallways are outfitted with steady and motion activated light fixtures that turn on as tenants pass through various zones. Larger units have their own interior lighting that is activated by a timer switch.
Polished concrete floors offer added sheen throughout the facility by helping to reflect more light in the hallways. Hallway concrete is ground and polished with diamond pads, producing a shiny reflective surface.
Doors, Hallways, And Security
Temple, Ga.-based Janus International furnished and installed all doors, hallways, and ceiling system. The interior doors are painted with a glossy white finish to reflect both natural and artificial light freely while the insulated exterior doors for the drive-up units are painted charcoal gray to compliment the exterior color scheme.
The Janus Corrugated Hallway System is installed in both buildings, while a three-quarter soffit system is installed on the first floor of Building 1.
Congress Storage’s CCTV system features high resolution six-megapixel cameras installed throughout the facility. The Advanced Security installed CCTV system produces images with superior clarity—a minimum eight times more resolution than standard analog cameras. Managers can view the property on wide-screen monitors in the sales office.
The access controls from PTI Security Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., are placed at the ingress and egress gates at each building entrance.
The CCTV system has an intercom integrated into cameras at each keypad. The intercom permits tenants to communicate with the office from various locations around the property.
ADA Accessible Office
The 960-square-foot office inside Building 1 is ADA accessible. The desk, break room, and waiting and sales areas are skillfully integrated into a compact space defined by floor-to-ceiling storefront forming two walls of the office. Visitors enjoy views across the landscaping in front of the building and onto Congress Avenue below.
The open ceiling rises over 10 feet high in line with the exterior tower effect of Building 1, while a dropped system houses recessed lights over the desk area. The dropped ceiling also supports the suspended track system for spot lighting, which is used to illuminate sales merchandise displayed on a slat wall.
The exterior color scheme is replicated in the office with a rich palette of gray and silver touches. The floor is polished, scored, and stained dark gray. Countertops are solid surface Corian in natural gray with bullnose edge.
Tenants may use two ADA accessible restrooms and chilled water fountains by employing their security codes to enter.
Consort, Inc., a local civil engineering and landscape architectural firm, designed the landscaping plans for the facility. While adhering to the City of Austin’s mandates for water efficient landscaping, Consort created a compliant and lush design for the tight spaces on the site by cleverly squeezing out landscape beds and strips for plantings in even the smallest areas.
Landscaping is planted around the entire site and down one side of the driveway. Consort artfully arranged over 600 trees and plants to compliment the preserved trees. All the new vegetation introduced to the site are heat and drought tolerant Texas native plants.
Another creative feature of the landscape is a rain garden that serves as a detention pond. The rain garden is a natural and attractive solution for managing rain water and helps remove pollutants before the runoff enters the municipal storm system.
The rain garden is an 822-square-foot elongated depression that is fully landscaped on the surface yet conceals an underground filtration system of filter fabric, gravel, and perforated pipe.
Management And Marketing
OSF Congress selected CubeSmart Management to operate the daily functions of the facility. CubeSmart, which is a Pennsylvania real estate investment trust, provides comprehensive support by managing all aspects of operation, including reporting, staffing and training, and accounting.
CubeSmart employs a combination of proprietary and customized software, sophisticated data-driven revenue management techniques, and the expertise of seasoned industry professionals in the management of the property.
CubeSmart has utilized a combination of digital and local marketing techniques to drive customers to the store. Though digital marketing drives the majority of the business, direct mail and other local and grass roots efforts have also been implemented. As a part of CubeSmart’s marketing, flyers announcing the facility opening were direct mailed to 10,000 addresses in the area.
Since the location is convenient to the university, as well as many nearby apartment, condominium, and townhome complexes, the unit mix includes many smaller sizes such as 5-by-5, 5-by-10, and the popular 7.5-by-10 that college students prefer.
Congress Storage offers 1,030 climate-controlled storage units and 26 drive-up units.
Some unique elements were incorporated into the facility plan to address visibility issues. “The architect and developer designed a beautiful building that is tall enough to be seen by traffic passing in either direction on South Congress Avenue,” says Guy Middlebrooks, vice president of third-party management for CubeSmart Self Storage. “Signage was strategically placed to take advantage of the building height. Additionally, the red storage doors displayed in the upper floor windows communicate the product that is being offered as well as the CubeSmart brand.”
In addition, Capco resurfaced the retaining wall to accommodate a large painted mural that offers an artistic appearance and a way to advertise the business. “It’s in a very eclectic part of Austin, and the mural has artistic characteristics and fits with the community, and at the same time they were able to advertise the facility at street level,” Bergmann says.
Site size, building location, underground water challenges, and other existing conditions created a high-barrier development in which design challenges were overcome. This project was designed as a highly visible, sleek facility that adds to the SoCo eclectic environment and positions Congress Storage for success.
Facility Owner and Developer: OSF Congress, LP
General Contractor: Capco General Contracting
Architect: ARCHCON Architecture, Ltd.
Management Company: CubeSmart Self Storage
Security System: PTI Security Systems
Doors/Hallways: Janus International
Steel Systems & Roofing: Capco Steel Inc.
David Lucas is a freelance writer in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications.