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Saturday, Sep 30, 2023

Car Condos Spin Some Heads

What is a high-end car collector to do when there’s no more space in his home garage? He can join the list of auto enthusiasts waiting for the next phase of mini-warehouses that Rick and Tony Principe, father-and-son real estate developers and automobile collectors, plan to build to meet the demand for quality auto storage. The pair recently finished 16 “man caves” – industrial condominiums they carved out of a 60,000-square-foot industrial building in Westlake Village to create fancy garages with high ceilings, room for nine or 10 vehicles, roll-up garage doors and an amenities-rich lounge the condo owners share. They say the condos fill a need auto collectors have long had for space to store their pricey cars and other vehicles while also giving them an environment where they can show off their treasures and hang out with other enthusiasts. Buyers have responded to the Principes’ formula. Car collectors started buying the units before they were officially up for sale, and they sold within a month. The pair have also started pre-selling the next phase of units at the same site, due to finish next summer. And another facility is proposed in Calabasas. A similar project they completed in Newbury Park some years ago was equally successful. “We were solving a space issue, and at the same time making it focused on the collector/car enthusiastist group,” Tony Principe said. “We wanted to also create an environment that people could enjoy automobiles with like-minded collectors. If we just provided storage space, it might do well. And if we just provided entertainment space, it might do well. But putting them all together makes it work.” Parking space Industrial space in the Conejo Valley is tight – only 1.7 percent of its 7.3 million square feet is vacant, according to third-quarter data by Colliers International Inc. The San Fernando Valley vacancy rate is at 1.4 percent, and Los Angeles County is even lower at only 1.3 percent. Tony Principe, president of Westcord Commercial Real Estate Services in Westlake Village, and Rick, the owner and chief executive, say the tight market has driven some car connoisseurs to rent space in unusual places, such as museums and airport hangars. “Everyone wants to buy cars, but when they get to their house, they never have enough space, and that has stopped them from buying cars,” Rick Principe explained. The team said they’ve sold small industrial buildings to auto collectors over time, so about 10 years ago, they began hunting for the right projects in the right location to create a specialty product of auto storage condos. Their first success was in 2007 when they bought and redeveloped a 40,000-square-foot industrial building in Newbury Park into 31 small for-sale condominiums. They didn’t specifically target car collectors as buyers, but the units ended up selling in just over three months before they were finished, with 25 of them bought by collectors. “It was so well received, and people loved the idea of owning it, and the flexibility of the (unit) sizes,” Tony Principe said. “They went very quickly. People saw this as a great option to renting out.” That drove the Principes to make a $12-plus million investment to buy and redevelop the Volkswagen of America Inc.’s former emissions testing site in Westlake Village last year with exclusively car collectors in mind. They reconfigured the property into industrial units with building design features they knew from the Newbury Park project would appeal to vehicle collectors; they also added the lounge area and the exclusive club atmosphere. “We’ve been working on this for 10 years to come up with the right formula,” Rick Principe said. “This is probably the closest.” Mini showrooms Buyers of the Westlake Village condos have free reign to customize their spaces as they like. One buyer has decorated his unit as a tribute to his father, displaying his dad’s vintage motorcycles, a classic wood-framed station wagon, a Louis Vuitton antique, three-wheel delivery motorcycle, his leather jacket and posters of classic cars and car clubs on the walls. “Car garages are the personality of the person,” Tony Principe said. In terms of price, the smallest condo unit – about 1,400 square feet – sold for nearly $606,000; the largest at 2,840 square feet sold for $1.2 million. The average unit, about 2,000 square feet, can accommodate nine to 10 cars on the ground, but some owners have installed hydraulic lifts that stack about four cars, Tony Principe said. The Principes say that while car collection condos are popping up in other places, the private club-like atmosphere at the Westlake Village facility is unique. The common area lounge has a full-sized wet bar, sitting areas, pool and poker tables, wine lockers and flat-screen televisions. Members can use the lounge for parties at no charge, and the Principes’ business managing the property, Finish Line Auto Storage, offers bartenders, catering and other services. Additionally, the pair offer a members-only website for selling vehicles and shopping for new ones and finding recommended mechanics and suppliers of aftermarket parts or accessories – all contributed by owners’ resources. Individual condos have plumbing, but no bathrooms. The facility has common restrooms. Located within a business park, the Principes have access to at least 200 parking spaces so unit owners can invite friends, and car dealerships can host events. Security is tight, with key cards, cell phone access codes and license plate readers in the parking lot. Ownership of the units is limited to vehicle collectors to keep a club-like feel. “That was extremely important,” said Tony Principe, referring to the ownership restriction, “because people here didn’t want to be next to a plumber.” Car culture In 2006, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. studied the local car collector market and found that there were more than 200-auto related clubs or local chapters of national clubs, at least seven automotive museums and 11 racetracks. In addition, there were numerous races, events and automobile shows. The father and son duo are part of that world, and they’ve leveraged their network to make their auto storage formula successful. At least 12 buyers of the Westlake Village units belong to the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Checkered Flag 200, a private group of members within the L.A. organization, which visits private collections. Both Principes belong as well. Rick Principe collects European sports cars, and previously headed up the local chapter of the Ferrari Club of America. The current club president owns the building adjacent to their facility and bought two of the condo units. The facility is also getting interest from car dealerships that want to hold events there to promote their vehicle inventory, the pair said. Location of the facility at 5388 Sterling Center Drive also has a role in its success, the Principes say. Surrounding it are some of Southern California’s best roads for driving enthusiasts, such as the scenic and steep Mulholland Drive and Stunt Road in Calabasas. “That’s where people love to drive on the weekends,” Rick Principe explained. Also, within 35 miles of the facility are some of the most affluent areas in Southern California – Calabasas, Beverly Hills and Malibu – where many car collectors reside, the Principes said. Fellow enthusiasts are waiting for the next phase of the Westlake Village facility. The pair expect to break ground in the first quarter of 2018 on another 14 units inside a 20,000-square-foot building across the parking lot from the current property. They are already preselling units. And another 30 units are before the city of Calabasas for consideration. “We’re building a model and a brand that we expect to continue to roll out in Southern California in the right markets,” Tony Principe said. “It’s been very well received so far.”

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