Finally, we’ve made it to December and could all use a good dose of holiday cheer. Different as it might be this year, our immediate family intends to celebrate – and there will be gifts, lots and lots of gifts. After all, I feel somewhat sheepish about banging the commercial drum of optimism back in January to usher in the “Roaring 20s.”
Back to those gifts – the bigger the better. No need to worry about storage. We live in Leaside and there’s seemingly no shortage of self-storage space for sale here. Reader Barry Schneider recently wrote, “I saw a sign on the…northeast corner of Laird and Wicksteed….I would be interested in [your] thoughts on the building of a storage facility on…what could become a thriving retail and commercial district.” And with that message, our editor gave me the green light to write an article about self-storage in Leaside.
A good way to earn a solid ROI
From an investor’s standpoint, the self-storage business opportunity in Leaside presents an attractive business model. Many companies are promoting their expertise to help anyone with suitable land to set up a “turnkey” business, considerable campaigns targeting landowners looking for options, notable real estate organizations such as CBRE with self-storage advisory practices, and the REITs which have joined the party, too. This level of activity indicates there is interest in this type of investment, for good reason. Although the pandemic has greatly affected demand for smaller living spaces (a market segment of self-storage), rapidly increasing business demand is expected to pick up the slack for years to come. For the record, the sign Mr. Schneider mentions refers to the new Access Storage facility farther along Wicksteed and not the prime street corner of concern, which remains vacant.
Self-storage also offers land and business owners a strong rate of return for a moderate amount of risk subject to the degree of leverage deployed, relatively minimal HR hassles, and a simple built form. Having a Leaside location can ‘up the ante’ because we are close to the DVP, 401 and the downtown core, we have underutilized land that is zoned industrial, and the adjacent residential community is a decent market. When at capacity and selling at $34 per square foot per month for a 300 sq. ft. unit, the income generated from self-storage is far superior to anything you can get from leasing space in a modern office building, and crushes the financial return on a similar-sized industrial built form.
Here’s the thing: I am an advocate for building a thriving business ecosystem in Leaside that generates income and benefits for all stakeholders. The self-storage business is appealing to a specific set of stakeholders, and if I were presented with the business cases that effectively launched all of these storage facilities I probably would have jumped in too. Some are even quite attractive (e.g. Bluebird near Longo’s). But, if the City, as a key stakeholder, wants to truly add 16,000 jobs or new residents to Leaside, then we’re going to need significantly more ‘gunpowder’ than nine storage facilities in the business park to make good on that target.
Why storage in Leaside?
As reported by Leaside Life in 2014, the City passed a new zoning bylaw to consolidate land use. At the time, the prevailing 1963 zoning bylaw for portions of the Leaside business park was “general industrial,” which allowed for warehousing and self-storage but not for business or professional office use. Fast forward to today and the City’s official plan is far better positioned to accommodate modern business and the building of new office space to meet future requirements. Sadly, remnants of the old bylaw still exist, making it much easier to apply for and get approval to build a self-storage facility rather than a new office building in the business park. As an example, the proposed Leaside Innovation Centre at 154 Wicksteed Ave., a new high-tech building that will provide space for upwards of 400 new workers, is still inching its way through the approvals process.
Moving forward, the City should prepare a secondary plan for the Leaside business park. There are just too many initiatives (some real, some rumoured) taking place to wing it, not to mention adding the new Ontario line station and possible service yard to the mix. Because the business park has several stakeholders with differing needs, determining best use of the land could get messy. A thoughtful reconciliation of benefits that will accrue in varying degrees to various stakeholders over time should be reflected in the plan. The plan should also specify what type of business and employment will be conducted here, what specific steps will be taken to bring the plan to fruition, and outline opportunities for public-private partnership as they relate to the business park.
With an agreed blueprint in place, all stakeholders would feel more confident in their business planning. In the meantime, I want to see our self-storage business friends succeed. It is important we do all we can to support business in Leaside and I believe there are plenty of creative ways Leaside entrepreneurs could help monetize unused capacity. The Leaside business park mustn’t leave its evolution to chance; this is our opportunity to tell the world who we are and why it makes sense to invest here.
Season’s greetings, Leaside. We still have nine more years to hear this decade really roar!
What would you like to see at the corner of Laird and Wicksteed? Do you use self-storage facilities? Would you invest in a self-storage business? What role do you see our residential community playing in the evolution of the business park? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.