Andy Powell didn’t need much coaxing to join an effort to open a multi-acre RV and boat storage compound in Cape Coral.
The Wright Construction Co. executive saw a ready market of people just like himself, who are tired of hassling with restrictions cities and homeowner associations put on parking recreational vehicles, boats and other large toys on residential property.
“I was a pretty easy sell,” Powell says, recalling the frustration of being on waiting lists for somewhere to put his RV.
That’s partially how Powell, a senior vice president at Fort Myers-based Wright, got involved in a project his friend, area entrepreneur Bruce Grady, is behind: Diplomat RV & Boat Storage, scheduled to open in Cape Coral in September. It’s a convenient solution to storing his recreational vehicle, since his new hometown of Cape Coral forbids the parking of RVs and boats at residences beyond 48 hours.
But this project, say Grady and Powell, also has some commercial real estate heft, and they are confident it will serve a large community need.
Investors in Diplomat, estimated to cost $7.8 million, include Grady, Powell, Fort Myers attorney Joe Coleman and Bruce Grady’s wife Beverly Grady, also an attorney. Grady and partners put up 15% of the $7.8 million cost. A bank provided 50% as first lien holder, and the Small Business Administration covered the remaining through a 504-loan at below-market rates.
How did Bruce Grady, a 67-year-old Fort Myers native and former mobile home park developer convince his partners to invest, beyond the need? Answers Grady, the project’s managing member: “Strong cash flow in return for the investment — that is truly a strong factor.”
Powell will help oversee construction on 13.7 acres acquired for the compound, at 2900 Diplomat Parkway East. When completed, the yard will have 86,000 square feet of storage space, including 204 three-sided canopy covered spaces. Diplomat will also offer five garages and 221 asphalt spaces that can be adjusted to the size of vehicle or boat to be stored. Grady expects Diplomat to be leased up within 18 to 24 months.
While the 430 spaces will make Diplomat one of the largest boat and RV storage facilities in the region, its extras set it apart, especially the security features, Powell says. “Knowing your engine is going to be there is a big deal” for boaters, he says.
He expects the security amenities also will draw art collectors, owners of valuable vintage automobiles and owners of over-sized commercial vehicles.
'This facility is going to be more upscale compared to most of the competition.’ Bruce Grady, Diplomat RV & Boat Storage, Cape Coral
An after-hours watchman in a caretaker house overlooking the entry gate will monitor 30 security cameras that can zoom in for close-ups of faces and license tags. Any detection of motion sends an alarm to the caretaker, says Grady.
“The main thing is all the amenities,” says Grady. The list includes a customer lounge with restrooms and showers, covered wash bay, LP gas service, sewer dump, large boat lockers for fishing equipment or water skis, maid service for RVs, carpet and upholstery cleaning equipment for customer use and vacuum cleaners, wet vacs and air hoses.
Adds Grady: “This facility is going to be more upscale compared to most of the competition.”
Grady would have made the complex even larger, but Cape Coral limited him to 40 storage units an acre on the landscaped, triangle-shaped lot. Grady plans a second phase, in which the asphalt spaces will be covered.
Before the opening, Grady will send postcards to RV and boat owners within a 10-to-12-mile radius of Diplomat. Internet and social media promotions and a referral program from area boat and RV dealerships will be in the marketing mix, too, he says.
While the facility will be built to withstand 160-mph winds, Grady says customers must have their own insurance for everything from property damage and theft to liability for damaging a fellow customer’s boat or RV.
Powell, an investor and builder, looks forward to completing the project — when he’ll be an end-user. “As a long time RVer,” he says, “I’ve seen the need for this myself.”