Carrie Rengers

U-Haul transforms neglected 1916 building

U-Haul has transformed the one-time Bemis Bag building on East 13th Street just a few blocks west of the Canal Route.
U-Haul has transformed the one-time Bemis Bag building on East 13th Street just a few blocks west of the Canal Route. The Wichita Eagle

U-Haul is putting the finishing touches on its renovation of the former Bemis Bag building on East 13th Street just west of the Canal Route. (Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle)

When U-Haul took over the one-time Bemis Bag building on East 13th Street a few blocks west of the Canal Route, the company said it would remodel the space to fit its needs.

Instead, though, what it has done is nothing short of a transformation for the entire neighborhood.

An aging 1916 building that was fast becoming an eyesore is now a stunningly updated yellowish-gold building with U-Haul’s signature diamond pattern over much of it.

“U-Haul in other markets has been buying these older, multistory buildings if the price is right, and then they’re able to remodel it and then still be way under what it would cost for a … newer facility,” says Don Arnold of John T. Arnold Associates, who handled the deal. “That was part of the appeal.”

Aaron Krueger, president of U-Haul Company of Southern Kansas, says location was a big factor, too.

“Good drive-by visibility helps,” he says. “We’ve got 20,000 cars a day right up and down the street. … Ninety thousand people live within three miles of this location.”

Arnold adds, “It’s so convenient to downtown.”

Krueger and other U-Haul employees have heard from their neighbors, too.

“I got some Christmas cards from people in the neighborhood wanting to pat us on the back,” says Harold McAdoo, an owner rep for U-Haul.

He says one woman wrote to say she’d been driving by for almost a decade.

“She was glad to … see us come in here,” McAdoo says. “So I thought that was pretty cool.”

The company closed on the 64,000-square-foot building, which was built for a tire manufacturer, in late 2014. U-Haul first began looking for new space when it had to move its store from Kellogg and West Street due to highway construction.

“We spent months and months driving around,” Krueger says. “This would have been something we would have been interested in regardless.”

He says this part of Wichita was in need of the company’s products and services, which include truck and trailer rentals and a storage facility.

The company operated out of a trailer behind the building until about a month and a half ago. Now, a showroom at the front of the building is open.

A 40,000-square-foot storage facility is still under construction. It will be ready within 10 weeks and will have 630 units.

The company still has some sidewalk repairs to make and landscaping to add in the spring.

The building once had windows surrounding the business, but they were all shuttered for many years. U-Haul has added some back to be able to show products.

Otherwise, the building is a solid, massive concrete structure with a tower in its center with rooftop access.

“A tornado’s not going to move it,” Arnold says.

U-Haul is going to incorporate some found objects from the building, such as vintage scales and old signs around the property, and add a dock area in the back for loading storage units.

“The majority of our time at the beginning was getting the outside ready … but now we’ve moved all our efforts back here,” Krueger says.

“When we’re done down here, it’ll be as nice as the front,” he says. “That’ll be it. We’ll be done.”

Arnold says when he first started marketing the building, he was hopeful to find an industrial user for it. He says it’s been something to watch a building that had been in a state of neglect turn into something that’s a positive for the area.

“I enjoyed being part of the transformation and revitalization.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers