JANESVILLE—A Minnesota developer plans to fill most of the former Crazy Joe’s furniture store in downtown Janesville with climate- controlled self-storage units to serve a growing downtown apartment market.
In an interview Thursday, Midwest Indoor Storage co-owner Nicole Elsawaf said her Minneapolis self-storage company is asking the city of Janesville for a zoning change to convert most of the 30,000-square-foot, two-floor former Crazy Joe’s at 314 W. Milwaukee St. It would offer leased, secured storage units with onsite management.
Elsawaf said the request is part of a plan to revamp the building’s exterior and interior to include more than 100 self-storage units that could be used to store personal belongings or other non-flammable items.
Under plans Midwest Indoor Storage and city planning staff have been working through over the past year, Elsawaf said the building’s exterior would get a facelift and the eastern half of the 1950-circa building’s street-side storefront would be recast as pair of 1,500-square-foot retail spaces. The rest of the building would be segmented off into storage units.
Elsawaf said Midwest Indoor Storage has developed more than two-dozen similar indoor climate-controlled storage facilities, mainly in small and midsized cities in Minnesota.
She said the Crazy Joe’s reboot would be the company’s second time turning a downtown property into storage. She said the aimed is to capitalize on an anticipated influx of new apartment buildings on the city’s west side downtown.
Just across the street, developer Jim Grafft is working with a Madison development partner to transform the now vacant, six-story former Monterey Hotel into market-rate apartments.
“To be able to urbanize the downtown area, like the city of Janesville is trying to do, more activity, more shopping, more people, they want people to live closer to the downtown. They’re going to need to be able to provide storage options for people, as well,” Elsawaf said.
Crazy Joe’s has been vacant for several months after the owner retired and closed down multiple locations in the region, including in downtown Janesville. That’s left a large-format retail site defunct, that had anchored the downtown’s far west side.
Elsawaf said the owner had difficulty marketing the building for retail, in part because of its large-scale footprint, and its prospects as new apartments. She said her company specializes in buying and turning distressed, hard to retrofit properties into self-storage.
Her management company, KK&G Properties, bought the building a few months ago.
Midwest Storage is in the midst of similar project to turn a downtown Fairibault, Minnesota storefront into storage. In that project, storefront and street facing parts of the building would be apartments.
Elsawaf said Janesville city planners have asked, as part of a re-zoning concept for the Crazy Joe’s site to have at least portions of the storefront side refitted as smaller-format retail shop spaces.
The building would need to be re-zoned specifically for self- storage, but Elsawaf said the emphasis would be to make a “major investment” to dress up the front façade in a way that matches the historic feel of other storefronts on the western stretch of West Milwaukee Street.
“We rehab them completely. New roof, new HVAC, New electrical, remove asbestos, buildings that many people are scared to buy. We paint, redo the outside, tuck point. They don’t look anything like they did when we buy them. But the bones have to be good,” she said.
The city’s plan commission will review and hold a public hearing for the re-zoning request in November, according to a city memo. Midwest Indoor Storage aims to have the building renovated and ready to lease storage units by early next year.
Elsawaf said leases for the self-storage spaces would be tailored for people such as apartment tenants to set up limited, or even month-to-month, lease arrangements.
She said at other climate-controlled facilities her company runs, small businesses that have short-term storage or warehousing needs use the units. Once, she said, one of her clients needed storage space for a big cache of Thin Mints cookies.
“The Girl Scouts needed storage for two months out of the year. That’s when all of their cookies came in. They needed temperature control, because... it would have melted the chocolate and ruined all those cookies,” she said.
In Janesville, the Elsawaf said, Midwest Indoor Storage plans to employ two people to manage and monitor the facility and work with clients who lease the units.
She said one of the managers is a former Crazy Joe’s furniture store employee who initially showed her company the building when it went on the market.
“We asked him if he would come on with us. And he said, ‘Sure!’ So he started this past Monday, He’s training in our Rochester, Minn. office for the next two weeks. And then he will work remotely in Janesville until the facility is ready,” Elsawaf said. “We’d like to hopefully get his store open as soon as possible.”