The surging exotic and classic car market has driven into a pressing need across the region: more storage space. Several enterprising developers have gassed up to meet the demand.
When you look back at the history and culture of the United States in the second half of the 20th century, it’s hard to imagine anything more iconic than the automobile. It represented innovation, freedom, growing up.
This was a time when cars were the stuff of poetry. Or, since we’re talking about America, the stuff of rock and roll. Catching a glimpse of a 1969 Pontiac GTO got you singing, like Springsteen, about mansions of glory in suicide machines and being sprung from cages and "steppin’ out over the line.”
Surely this all sounds overly romantic for most people. But for a great many others out there, the love for a car is as deep as, dare we say, the love of a spouse. And knowing that history and that love of the automobile is critically important to understand when you begin to consider one of the latest trends in the real estate world: car condos.
Yes. Condominiums for automobiles. Not to be mistaken for storage units or warehouses, these are specially built properties with individual units — often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars— to keep your cars. Many are equipped with loft areas and bathrooms, designed to host parties or just hang out with your cars all day.
And just like flowers in the spring, these car condos are popping up everywhere.
Little Deuce Coupe
On the Gulf Coast, between Tampa and Naples, there are at least a half dozen of these kinds facilities either open or in the works. They range from Motor Enclave near the Tampa Executive Airport, which includes a racetrack, to the man caves at Island Storage Suites on Old South Way in Fort Myers.
What they all have in common is they are a place where car collectors can take their vehicles and at the same time find a community of the like-minded. What you aren’t likely to find is a Toyota Camry, unless you tumble into the employee parking lot.
No, these car condos are for mid-century American muscle cars — Camaros, GTOs, Corvettes, Mustangs — or exotic cars — Ferraris, Lamborghinis — or collectibles — there’s a fully restored 1931 Duesenberg at Island Storage.
But not all facilities are the same.
At Motor Enclave in Tampa, one customer collects Volkswagen Beetles and another one has a Pontiac Fiero collection. A few of the carless have even purchased a garage, using it for a cigar lounge or bourbon bar.
“My customers aren’t flashy,” says Brad Oleshansky, founder and CEO of Motor Enclave, a $100 million facility where units run from $300,000 to $1.7 million and owners pay a $30,000 fee to join, along with a $6,000 annual fee. "The beauty of it is that it’s not about the money or where you live. It’s not about who’s got the fancier car. It’s all about the cars and the passion.”
Costs of car condos, in general, haven't dented demand: several of the condo communities are sold out and planning second phases before the first one opens.
Luxe Dream Garage on Communications Parkway in Lakewood Ranch, for one, recently let owners know it was buying adjacent property for a second location. Buyers of the first phase will move in early next year and phase two buyers will move begin moving in about six months later.
“Luxe 1 was our entry into the market here in Lakewood Ranch and that sold out very quickly,” says Jon Astore, a spokesperson for the developer. “We knew that there was more of a demand than we were satisfying, so we quickly pivoted and we developed Luxe 2 right across the street.”
Luxe has priced units between $300,000 and $500,000.
The extra space, Astore says, allows the company to double its size and double the amenities it offers.
Car condominiums, while gaining some attention, aren’t new. They’ve been around for more than a decade.
One of the industry’s pioneers is the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. It opened in 2004 as a place where people could drive exotic cars on a racetrack. Today, along with the tracks, it sells condos that hold as many as 10 cars.
But even with the growth, there is not much awareness and it remains a bit of a novelty — even to car collectors. Astore says about 30% of people they talk to have never heard of the concept. “And these are people that are avid collectors.”
That’s beginning to change though. One reason is that with economic pressures, more and more people are investing in these types of vehicles. According to data from Statista, the global classic car market is expected to grow from about $30.9 billion in 2020 to $43.4 billion in 2024. Those figures don’t account for the exotic cars so popular with collectors.
With all these collectibles now being accumulated, owners need to find a place to store them. And unlike baseball cards or stamps or coins, you can’t stick them in a closet.
Scott Allan, developer of Island Storage in Fort Myers, says many of his owners came from up north after selling their homes. Once in Florida, they felt handcuffed because they didn’t have garage space for their collections and refused to sell their toys. Allan got to know some of these people and an idea came to him. “Just on a hunch, I said, ‘These guys need man caves.’”
His first property sold out all 62 units. Now he's planning to expand to a 17-acre property next to Island Storage to build 100 more units — and he's already got a waiting list of buyers. The initial units sold for about $230 per square foot. He expects the additional units will be priced at about $275 per square foot. That's currently more than the average price per square foot for a home in Fort Myers, which is $236 per square foot, according to Realtor.com.
Allan has a second man cave-styled condo complex in Fort Myers, Lakeside Storage Suites, and is considering expanding into Tennessee.
Just like their residential brethren, the facilities are usually part of an association and owners must pay dues as well as abide to bylaws. The fee amounts vary. Wheel Base Premium Garage Condos in Sarasota charges an association and annual amenity fee; Elite Garage Suites in St. Petersburg collects a monthly fee of $150; and Naples Motor Condos’ monthly fees top $250.
Also like their residential brethren, one of the big differentiators between car condo complexes is the amenities each facility offers.
For the most part, these properties are designed for much more than just parking vehicles. Complexes include shared spaces for get togethers, clubhouses and, in the case of Motor Enclave, its highly-touted racetrack.
The idea is to create a space where unit owners can come and spend time, bring their families and friends, and hold events.
Astore described it as a “country club without a golf course.”
“This is what I call non-essential spending,” he says. “People are affluent, they’ve been successful and, you know, they’re enjoying quality aspects of life. Sadly, not everybody in the world has that opportunity.”