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Ex-Walmart to get second life as storage facility

By Jo Lee Ferguson Special to the News-Journal
June 19, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.

A former Walmart store that has been vacant for six years is getting a new life as a climate-controlled self-storage facility.

Just Store It is expected to open before the end of July in an 86,000-square-foot space in the Park Place Shopping Center in Longview, according to Dallas resident and Diana native Brad Tidwell. Tidwell purchased the building at 1903 NW Loop 281 with partners Terry Cook of Longview, Ray McKown of Dallas and Ronnie Walker of Beaumont.

"The self-storage industry has been a strong investment choice for years and has proven to be very resilient in the recession," Tidwell said. "In the metro areas you will find that most people prefer 100 percent climate-controlled space, but unfortunately the rents are usually much higher, therefore 100 percent climate-controlled facilities have not been feasible in smaller markets.

"With the recent downturn in the retail industry, investors have scrambled to find a way to convert large vacant retail buildings into a viable project. Converting an existing large retail building to a self-storage facility allows you to use the existing building, sprinkler system, air conditioning, lighting and provide a first-class storage facility. If the building can be purchased at the right price, the total project cost can be done for a fraction of a new climate-controlled project."

Dana Deason, with the Deason Financial Group in Longview, said this type of "conversion" has been a common practice in the self-storage industry for about five years. His firm specializes in financing for self-storage facilities, and he acted as a consultant on the Just Store It project.

"It's taking the existing walls and bringing a new use to the facility, and it's becoming quite common throughout the Metroplex ... It's starting to take hold in East Texas," Deason said, citing the conversion of a former lumber yard in Texarkana to a self-storage facility.

"It will certainly increase traffic to the existing retail (in the shopping center)," he said.

Just Store It will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 will consist of 308 climate-controlled self-storage units and 50 indoor parking spots for boats, automobiles and recreational vehicles. Phase 2 eventually will add 300 more climate-controlled storage units.

Tidwell said the business will employ a couple of people, with his mother, Judy Tidwell, managing the facility. Demolition work has been completed inside the building, and interior renovations are expected to start Monday.

The building was home to a Walmart from 1981 until 2004, when that store relocated to Gilmer Road as a Walmart Supercenter.

"Fortunately for us, our building is a former Walmart, which means we have five spaces on the side of the building that allow for loading and unloading out of the weather," Tidwell said. "We will also have covered drop off in the front of the building and loading docks at the rear of the building for semi truck loading and unloading."

The facility also will provide 24-hour-security with surveillance cameras "all over the place," Tidwell said.

Purchase of the 7-acre property and the renovations represent an investment of about $2 million, Tidwell. Locally, the real estate transaction was handled by Walter Northcutt with Beer Wells Real Estate Services.

Tidwell also is involved in other East Texas projects, with other business partners, including the recently completed Pine Place Apartments in Hallsville and apartment and retail projects in Diana.

"The Longview market is very strong and has held up very well in the recession," he said. "Since I was born and raised in Diana and worked as a banker in Longview for five years, I have a good understanding for the Longview market. As a banker in Dallas for the last six years I have financed over $100 million in real estate deals and have been able to see what kind of deals work and don't work. Every time I see a new idea my first thought is 'Will this work in Longview?' "



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