The historic Bird-Kultgen Ford building at 13th Street and Franklin Avenue will become a climate-controlled storage facility that will target the hundreds of people who have moved into lofts and town homes in downtown Waco.

“With all the development going on downtown, including residences, we would like to provide a service for people who now live nearby,” said Matt McCollum, of Lewisville, a Baylor University graduate who formed a development and real estate company with John Pruitt called Copperlion Group.

They bought the building, which has been vacant since 2006, from local businessman Tom Salome. The asking price was $595,000, “but we paid less than that,” McCollum said.

J.H. “Jack” Kultgen and Arthur Bird bought Waco’s Ford dealership in 1936. In 1947, they relocated to the Franklin Avenue site, which at that time was on the outskirts of the city.

Bird-Kultgen Ford in 1993 moved to West Loop 340, becoming the first dealership on what would become Waco’s “Motor Mile.”

A couple of small businesses, including Discount Auto Parts Exchange, occupied the approximately 40,000 square feet of space on and off for several years before it again went dark nine years ago.

“It presented itself with a lot of challenges. For one thing, there was really no parking with that facility,” real estate agent Brad Davis said. “A couple of prospects approached us, but their use was not in the best interest of downtown.”

Davis said the original asking price of $695,000 slipped as the structure went unsold, leading up to the purchase by McCollum. Davis said the complex is a cluster of three structures, with the main building covering 31,702 square feet.

“About a thousand or so people have moved into downtown the past five years to live and work, and that has created an opportunity for this sort of business,” said Chris McGowan, director of urban development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. “That’s one thing you see as the population grows, neighborhood services moving into the area.”

Peter Kultgen, the founder’s grandson who now oversees Bird-Kultgen Ford operations, described the proposed use of the old building as “pretty cool.” He said he heard rumors of what was transpiring and visited the location.

“It was a vacant building that just sat there for a long time, and you know what can happen to those,” he said.

He said as best he can recall, the Kultgen family sold the building in the early 1990s for $185,000.

Crews have removed asbestos from the building and are proceeding with interior demolition. A laborer, commenting on progress, mentioned that the crew had come across what appeared to be a mummified corpse during the course of their work.

“That is totally fictitious, to our knowledge. We don’t think it’s true,” said Amy Gillham, office manager for Kunkel Construction, which serves as contractor for the project. “Somebody else called asking about a dead body down there and we laughed.

“We don’t know what that worker saw or thought he saw. Maybe he’s just getting ready for Halloween.”

She asked if the employee provided a photograph of the mummy. He did not.

McCollum laughed when told about the report of a mummy and said he had heard no such story.

Sgt. Patrick Swanton, spokesman for the Waco Police Department, said the special crimes department, which would have investigated a report of a body found in the building, told him it had received no such notification.

McCollum said the building, which will be called Downtown Storage, will have 243 units ranging in size from 5-by-5 feet to 10-by-20 feet.

The monthly rate will start at about $1.20 per square foot and drop to no less than $1 a square foot, with those renting the larger units paying less per square foot than those renting the larger spaces.

The owner of a 10-by-20-foot space, for example, will pay $200 a month.

“We’re hoping to have the spaces available by Jan. 1,” McCollum said.

He said the facility will feature climate control, controlled access, security cameras, a sprinkler system and lighting “that will make our customers feel as secure at night as they would during the day.”

McCollum said crews will seek to retain the iconic look of the building’s exterior during the remodeling.

“We want to keep the curve of the building that makes it unique,” he said, “and we will secure many of the windows along Franklin Avenue, but do it in a way that keeps the feel and look of the old dealership.”

He said he plans to publicize the building and seek a management company.

McCollum is a partner with Shane Turner on the Tinsley Place project along South Eighth Street, which includes construction of about 215 town homes and apartments near downtown and Interstate 35.

The units are priced from $750 to $1,600 a month. McCollum said he hopes some occupants will rent space in his storage facility. He said about 160 of the housing units have been completed, “and they are filling up nicely.”

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