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Business Intel: New Virginia Varsity project mixes storage, creative spaces

Business Intel: New Virginia Varsity project mixes storage, creative spaces

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While storage facilities are generally passive, John Lugar wanted the Virginia Varsity Transfer & Self Storage project beside the River’s Edge Sports Complex to be different.

“We wanted the building to be alive,” said Lugar, president and owner.

In 2018, Virginia Varsity announced its plan to purchase more than 2 acres of land at the intersection of Franklin Road and Edinburgh Street in Roanoke that included the former Graves-Humphreys building.

The company set about building a new multistory structure to house a storage facility on the parking lot of the property, which has since been subdivided, and is also renovating the Graves-Humphreys building as a business center. The complex is now known as Varsity Park.

While Virginia Varsity has a passion for storage, Lugar said, the company felt there were better uses for parts of the building that offered breathtaking views.

In addition to more than 500 storage units of varying sizes, the building has a 1,000-square-foot event space known as the Field House, which includes a catering kitchen and small patio; five “SkyBoxes” that range in size from 100 to 150 square feet and can be rented and used as a space to write a novel, practice yoga or record a podcast; and a small meeting room called Centre Court overlooking the tennis courts. The building also houses Ferguson Fitness.

The SkyBoxes, all of which are named after iconic sports venues, can be used as so-called she sheds, man caves or hobby spaces, Lugar said. He doesn’t necessarily envision them being used as traditional office spaces, but for creative uses.

The Field House space has a variety of potential uses, Lugar said, such as cocktail parties, a March Madness viewing party or even a business presentation.

The decision to branch out beyond storage was driven by the location itself.

“We certainly have our own personal business interest and needs, which I feel like we have accomplished here in our goals, but we felt a deeper sense of responsibility to the community to really add something great beyond a passive storage building,” Lugar said.

He played on the nearby athletic fields as a kid and also wanted to be part of the energy in the area created by Carilion Clinic and the regular activity at the park and on the greenway.

“This is in a lot of ways like Roanoke’s backyard,” he said.

Though early plans called for apartments to be part of the project, Lugar said the residential component has been shelved for the time being. He said the addition of apartments would have compromised the performance of the storage building, which was the company’s priority.

However, Lugar said there may be opportunities for some residential space in a future phase of the redevelopment of the business center.

“We love the whole melting pot of this whole complex, and it’s only going to improve once we finish the business spaces in the business center and the office spaces,” he said. “We love the idea of the different energy and the different uses together. And residential would certainly be a neat part of that, even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

While Virginia Varsity doesn’t have much experience with these other more creative uses, Lugar said the storage and moving company is rooted in strong customer service, which would be applicable to the new elements of the business.

“That’s the business we’re in, is taking care of customers,” he said. “We just had to figure out once we had these spaces, would they be appealing and how do we deliver what customers expect?”

There are some remaining spaces in the storage facility that have been designated for other creative uses but not yet built out. But Lugar said he likes the idea of fitness uses — perhaps a studio with a Peloton bike that could be rented out, or a runner’s package that would allow for use of a shower and locker room — given the building’s location.

Now, Lugar is turning his attention to the business center. While some exterior improvements have been made, “It’s time to really get everything dialed in inside and bring the building back to life,” he said. The business center does have a few tenants, but Lugar said most of the building had to be turned over to allow it to be rehabbed.

“It’ll be great when there are different businesses and folks using it that bring this little ecosystem we have here in Varsity Park to life,” he said.

The storage side of the project was completed last year. While Virginia Varsity has other storage facilities, this was the first multistory structure it built, Lugar said. It includes a docking area for trucks and U-Hauls and also a commercial loading dock.

Lugar said the storage facility was designed to create the best experience for customers, with wider hallways in major arteries, a customer lounge and windows to allow for natural light. The company sacrificed some storage space to allow for windows throughout the building, which Lugar said not only provides light, but also helps customers to orient themselves once they step off the elevator.

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County. She can be reached at (540) 981-3234 or casey.fabris@roanoke.com.

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