Found Money In a Tight Economy, Condos Seek New Revenue Sources

Is there a condominium community anywhere that doesn’t need to build up its capital reserve? Looking for extra income, some communities show success with traditional fund-raising methods. But even better, new technologies are cropping up that can offer extra income to associations with land or facilities capable of hosting specialized equipment. At the same time, many “green energy” companies are looking for sites to lease for their solar or wind-power structures.

Success with these new options, however, may depend on all kinds of variables. In a small town in Massachusetts a few years ago, the town planner was surprised to hear from the deacon of the local Congregational church. “How do I get in touch with AT&T?” the deacon wanted to know. Scuttlebutt had apparently reached his congregation about the possibility of a big cellular phone company looking to site a cell tower or receiver in the town center, where cell phone service was rather spotty.

Under the town’s zoning, “stealth” towers were specified, meaning that cell phone carriers were encouraged to install receiver equipment on or in existing structures or buildings, so they’d be camouflaged. Church steeples were specifically mentioned by the Planning Board. They were usually an ideal height and could harbor the necessary electronics with no visual impact to the village “viewscape.” Church leaders soon became aware that cell phone carriers paid healthy lease fees to any landlord willing to host the equipment, worth thousands of dollars annually. The deacon was not alone in asking, “Where do we sign up?”

Opportunities to partner with technology and energy companies, and collect some much-needed income, are on the upswing. Cell phone carriers have been partnering for years now with property owners in desirable locations who have the land or structures that can accommodate receiver equipment. Despite the hurdles, schools, churches, businesses, and homeowners have benefited—so why not condominium communities?

Capturing Communities as Customers

It sounds like a true “win-win” situation, but even with ideal options for “stealth” installations, a residential community may run into zoning hurdles, or success may just be an issue of the stars being aligned or getting all of your ducks in a row. Steve Margolis, president of Margolis Management & Realty, LLC, in Hamden, Connecticut, cites an example. “I was approached by Sprint for a cell tower [on a community’s property]… They were ready to pay [rent] of $1,250 per month. The tower they proposed had room on it for two more carriers who would also pay rent. Unfortunately, abutters in the surrounding neighborhood cut it down. It eventually got installed on the roof of a nearby senior residence.”

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