For decades, U-Haul International Inc. has been in the mobility business. Now, it’s kicking its commitment to mobility into high gear.

The Phoenix, AZ-based moving and self-storage company plans to build its first “smart mobility center” in Tallahassee, FL. It’ll be unlike any facility that U-Haul has ever developed. Elements of the mobility center will include:

  • Self-storage space
  • Truck-sharing and rental services
  • Car-sharing and rental services
  • Charging stations for electric vehicles
  • A research and innovation incubator
  • Bicycle sales and repair services
  • Stations for alternative fuels, such as propane gas
  • A “smart mobility” showroom

Creating a business and transportation hub

In documents filed with the City of Tallahassee, U-Haul said the nearly 24-acre mobility center, at 5050 W. Tennessee St., will be an “innovative mix of transportation and business services.”

U-Haul said the project, a collaboration with the City of Tallahassee, “can be a prototype on how a city can become ‘smart’ and explore what the future of cities can be.”

Florida State University, whose main campus is in Tallahassee, is leading a project in its hometown designed to foster urban mobility.

“As an engineer, I want to make an impact on the life of the citizens where I live, and that is Tallahassee,” Reza Arghandeh, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Florida State, said in a 2016 news release. “Mobility is not all about cars and traffic. It’s about the needs that follow people throughout their day.”

U-Haul’s mobility center still must gain final approval from the Tallahassee city officials.

At its maximum size, the Tallahassee project will encompass nearly 600,000 square feet. The self-storage space and showroom will comprise as much as 150,000 square feet, while the incubator is slated for up to 85,000 square feet. reported U-Haul is buying the nearly 24-acre site for $6 million.

More mobility centers to come?

In documents filed with the City of Tallahassee, U-Haul indicates it wants to reuse structures that currently stand on the property. The site initially housed a retail center in the 1980s and then was converted into offices for state agencies.

“U-Haul’s success with adaptive reuse and infill development is a true testament to public and private interests working together to create a sustainable modern and thriving community,” the company said.

A price tag for the project wasn’t available. A representative of U-Haul couldn’t be reached for comment.

There’s no indication of how many other “smart mobility” facilities U-Haul hopes to open. However, the company has filed paperwork to trademark the phrase “smart mobility center,” suggesting that the Tallahassee project isn’t a one-off.

‘A natural fit’

Industry observers laud the Florida project as a wise, bold initiative.

“U-Haul started as the ‘smart mobility’ of 1945. U-Haul has been an integral part of mobility in one way or another ever since,” said Tron Jordheim, a self-storage consultant in Columbia, MO. “It seems a natural fit for U-Haul to leapfrog everyone in the moving and storage business, and become the innovator and leader of whatever is coming next in mobility.”

Eric Blum, a self-storage consultant in Coral Springs, FL, said he likes the concept for a few reasons. The self-storage facility will serve the growing population of Tallahassee, he said, while the incubator and bicycle operation will cater to students and professionals at Florida State.

“The vehicle-charging stations show that U-Haul is looking to what’s next and wants to be ready for that demand,” Blum added.

Ian Gilson, an analyst at Zacks Investment Research Inc. who tracks U-Haul’s parent company, AMERCO, called the Tallahassee project a “very positive” step for U-Haul. The project will build on U-Haul’s well-developed reservation system and around-the-clock access to rental trucks, Gilson said.

“I have told people for years that when U-Haul decides to make its next big move, it will be big — and it will be interesting,” Jordheim said.

John Egan