For more than two years, Robert D. Markwalter looked for the perfect site to build his next self-storage facility.
He searched as far north as Raleigh, N.C., and as far south as Melbourne before settling on a five-acre track in Fruitland Park, surrounded on three sides by The Villages' newest, and perhaps last, neighborhood, The Village of Pine Ridge off of S.R. 466-A.
Markwalter purchased the land from a veterinarian for just over $1 million on Jan. 22, under the name of B&D Self Storage LLC. The deed was recorded in Lake County on Jan. 29.
"It was a lot of hard work," Markwalter said of his search. But he's happy with his choice, even if the land price doubled between the first time he looked at it a couple of years ago and when The Villages announced it would build another neighborhood that practically surrounds the parcel.
Though it was costly, Markwater considers the site to be worth it with The Villages as a neighbor. Also, the parcel is at a traffic signal with turn lanes into his project. S.R. 466-A is also in the process of being widened.
"I saw the large population growth in The Villages," and knew the investment would pay off, he said.
"My closest competitor is four miles away on the north side of The Villages," he said. "I will be the newest and the best."
Markwalter isn't planning to build a typical self-storage. He is considering including space for wine storage, where it could be kept at a perfect temperature for preservation. Back-up generators would keep the coolers going if the electricity to the building is out.
"There are a lot of wine collectors around, and the retired people in The Villages might be big on that," he said.
He also plans to have space for parking RVs, boats and campers on the lot.
The design for B&D Self-Storage calls for the units to be configured like a fortress, with doors facing into an interior area and none facing the street.
Markwalter said he also plans to use the same landscaping palette as The Villages so it will blend into the community.
The buildings will be built for energy efficiency, with extra insulation in the units, energy-efficient air conditioning units, LED lighting in the hallways and exterior lights shielded from the sky to cut down on light pollution.
Markwalter plans to have live-in managers to take care of the facility.
In the self-storage business since 1996, Markwalter owned a large self-storage facility in Atlanta that he sold. He said he is putting all the knowledge he gained from that experience into designing his new venture.
Land clearing is scheduled to start on Monday, and he hopes to have the first phase of 250 units open by summer. He will use the first phase to guide what size units to add in the next phase. Markwalter has all his contractors in place and said they prefer not to be named.
"If this goes over well I'll be looking for another site," he said.
Self-storage companies, which rent units to small businesses and consumers, produced the best risk-adjusted return among 10 U.S. real estate investment trust indexes in the past decade, according to Bloomberg's riskless return ranking. "They had the highest total return and the third-lowest volatility, for a risk-adjusted gain of 10.6 percent," Bloomberg reported.