What happens if you open a storage facility for fine art — right in the middle of a recession?
For Museo Vault, a storage and services company that opened in Miami’s Wynwood arts district in late 2008, the answer was: struggle for awhile, concentrate on winning local clients and grow slowly but surely.
“Even the wealthiest people and collectors were not spending money,” said Todd Ruderman, managing partner of Museo Vault and president of Value Store It Management. “We had to work very hard and there were definitely a lot of challenges to get it up and running. The one thing we didn’t realize, which now makes a lot of sense, is you have to prove yourself. We had a lot of hurdles, but we got over them.”
Now, the five-story, 85,000-square-foot building with 65,000 square feet of rentable space at 346 NW 29th St. is about 70-80 percent occupied with art from clients including private collectors, museums, dealers and others. Business manager Vanessa Amor said that three years ago, that number was only about 15-20 percent.
“The first six months were very difficult,” she said. “But the interesting thing is that artwork was a commodity that wasn’t necessarily related to what happened in the financial crisis... It’s an interesting twist that the financial crisis, I think, while it worked against other people, it kind of turned to benefit us rather quickly.”
The idea for the business came about when co-founder David Lombardi, a real estate developer active in Wynwood, attended a seminar about insuring art in hurricane-prone South Florida back in 2006. The $10 million facility, developed by a group of partners led by Lombardi and Ruderman, opened in late 2008 after extensive research into requirements of insurance companies, the latest technology available, best practices in art storage and what potential competitors were doing.
They said they found that many other facilities around the country were decades old and some had been converted from previous purposes to house fine art. Fortress, an existing art-centered storage facility at 1629 NE 1st Ave. in Miami, had a waiting list, Amor said.
Kim Jones, vice president of Fortress Miami, said the company, which also has locations in Boston and New York, has earned success since opening in 1983 with the purpose of storing art and other valuables.
“Because Fortress has had such a well-established reputation from being in business for 30 years and being a national vendor, our business was always very stable through the recession,” she said. “Because of our longevity, the community knows that they can rely on us; we’re professional, reliable, consistent.”
Museo Vault made the pitch that its facility was brand new, built specifically for art — and that the company was willing to work with potential clients to earn their trust. The building was built specifically for storing art and providing related services such as making crates, packing, shipping and cataloguing. Security is tight: No one is allowed in without an escort, and entrances have biometric scanners. Temperature and humidity are controlled, and an alarm will sound if they veer outside of approved ranges. The facility’s backup generator is powered by natural gas as a hedge against electricity outages.