AUGUSTA — A growing demand for places to store personal items and gear is leading to a proposal to convert Kmart’s vacant former building and parking lot on Western Avenue into self-storage space. The effort is part of a larger trend of repurposing large, big-box stores that have been forced out of business into storage facilities.
Several councilors expressed enthusiasm that the former vacant and dilapidated retail space would be reallocated to an in-demand new use, but most councilors were unreceptive to parts of the specific proposal for Kmart’s premier site. Specifically, the developer’s plan to build several self-contained garage-style storage units in the parking lot, visible from Western Avenue and almost in the shadow of the State Capitol complex.
Councilors, in a meeting earlier this month with representatives of the potential developers, expressed interest in the reuse, which some say could also breathe new life into other vacant old retail spaces, including including, at the other end of Western Avenue, the old Sears Building at the Turnpike Mall.
“I appreciate the concept, I think repurposing these types of big box retail space – since retail is done differently these days, thank you Amazon – is something that needs to be done,” said Ward 2 Councilman Kevin Judkins, who is also a real estate broker. “He will never go back to what he was. So I see this as a big step up from what has been in place for a while now. So I encourage him, I support him. But I would really like to see if it can be tweaked a bit.
Several councilors, even those who said they like the concept, objected to developer Patriot Holdings’ plans to build multiple garage-style storage unit buildings in the parking lot between the former 95,000-square-foot Kmart building and Western Avenue. .
“Love the concept of the interior of the old Kmart building; I think we need that kind of storage badly,” said General Counsel Heather Pouliot. “I just don’t understand (the parking units) part of this. I just think this type of storage is better in different areas, not in a city. I don’t think it matches the vibe of the neighborhood.
Last year, city councilors approved a zoning ordinance amendment to allow storage companies as conditional uses in certain commercial zoning districts along Western Avenue where they were not previously permitted, including the area around the Turnpike Mall and Augusta Crossing shopping centers.
But Kmart’s site is in a different area, where storage companies are currently not allowed, so the Las Vegas-based developers are seeking a contract zone agreement with the city to allow their storage company to operate. install on the site. Patriot Holdings operates about 45 self-storage facilities called All-Purpose Storage throughout New England, according to Brandon Mitchell of Malone Commercial Brokers, who represented the company at the meeting with advisers. The company sees growth potential in Augusta and elsewhere in Maine, where it also has self-storage projects in development in Buxton, Fairfield, Belgrade, Brewer and Warren.
Mitchell said the company oversees the construction and operation of all of its own facilities and will build an attractive, high-quality, well-maintained project on the Kmart site.
“We kind of identified a need, that Augusta lacks self-storage,” Mitchell said. “We are going to do major work on the facade, we are going to make it beautiful again. We are very happy about this opportunity. This is what these guys do best, they take these old facilities and breathe new life into them.
The rest of the mall would remain retail space.
The proposed area change – which the Planning Council unanimously recommended – to allow a storage business on the Kmart site was originally due to go to councilors for a first reading on May 19, but councilors tabled the proposal after the proponent asked to delay its review so that it could make changes to the proposal after hearing advisers’ comments. Several councilors expressed concern that the garage-style storage buildings and a proposed security fence around them were unattractive to passers-by and called for them to be eliminated, reduced or better protected.
Keith Luke, the city’s director of economic development, said the developers were working on changes to their proposal. The proposal could come back to councilors at their next business meeting, Thursday.
Luke said Augusta’s proposal follows a trend of converting former retail space into storage space, part of a changing market.
“Converting single retail space to self-storage is something that’s happened over the last decade, you don’t have to drive far from Interstate 95 anywhere from Augusta, Connecticut, to see it,” Luke said. “A wide variety of self-storage buildings were once retail businesses. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the increase in rental units from one to two bedrooms, there are more places with minimal storage capacity. People move in with more stuff and they have to keep it somewhere.
He said the question that has yet to be addressed in Augusta is whether the former Kmart site is a good place for a storage unit business, especially so close to the Capitol complex of the State.
From 2010 to 2019, self-storage industry revenue grew 49.4% nationwide to $39.5 billion in 2019, according to neighbor.com, a storage market website . The industry operates at a national average occupancy rate of 95%, which means that storage facilities typically have 5% of their total space available for rental.
There were nearly 50,000 storage facilities in the United States in 2021, renting a total of 1.9 billion square feet, according to the SpareFoot Storage Beat, an industry site that compiled an industry snapshot. The snapshot showed that 10.6% of households rent a self-storage unit, at an average monthly cost of $89.12. In the 1990s, only 1 in 17 Americans rented a self-storage unit.
A total of 43.9 million square feet of new storage space was built in 2021, of which 49.9 million are expected to be built in 2022, according to storagecafe.com, and 255.5 million square feet of storage space were built in the past five years, equivalent to 16.1% of the total inventory.
At Large City, Councilwoman Abigail St. Valle said you can see urban storage facilities in many cities, including Maine, and growing demand for such units in the state. She noted that U-Haul already has a storage facility on its property just across Western Avenue from the Kmart mall site.
“I think it’s great that a storage facility wants to come to Augusta because if you go to any city there’s tons of storage facilities,” she said during the interview. a recent board discussion on the matter. “New York City, every block there’s a storage facility. You go to Bangor, Portland, you see storage facilities. So it’s great that we’re getting something like that too, especially since we are trying to bring new people to the area there needs to be somewhere they can put their stuff when they are trying to move.
Robyne Wilbur, office manager of Guerrette Properties, which rents apartments but also oversees three self-storage facilities in the Augusta area with a total of about 400 units, said storage demand seemed to increase when the coronavirus pandemic hit. She said they only have a handful of empty units for rent – the rest are in use. She said many current storage unit tenants have sold their homes and are living in apartments, so they need more storage space for their belongings.
“The demand has been high, absolutely, it’s been that way for a while now,” Wilbur said. “Honestly, it’s almost like when the pandemic hit, people needed storage. I do not know why. We get a lot of phone calls from people who have sold their house and are moving into an apartment at the moment because they can’t afford to buy another house at the moment. And they need a place to put their stuff.
If the proposed contract area to allow a storage business on the Kmart site is approved by councillors, the project will still need to be reviewed by the Planning Board as a conditional use, a process that includes a public hearing.
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