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May 1, 2012 10:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I rent property for a cell phone tower? And who do I call to do it?

So my friend used to have a warehouse in Florida. Then an act of god happened. Now he's got a flat concrete slab with utility hookups that he's making a mortgage payment on. He's looking for someone to rent his space for something to at least cover his payment and property taxes. To date he's had no takers. It's in an industrial area, close to highways and railways. But he can't find anyone.

I said "you should try and rent it out to a cell phone company for a tower." He said "Great. Who would I call?"

And I had no idea. I googled for about 20 minutes and all I know how to do is apply for FIOS TV service.

So who would you talk to for this sort of thing? is there a middleman? Is there a division of a company that handles it?

Or conversely, if you have a better idea, I'm open to it. And I know he is.
posted by rileyray3000 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Applied there as an office drone a while back, didn't get it. But this is what they do. Use their site to do keyword searches to find more ocmpanies.
posted by tilde at 10:04 AM on May 1, 2012

I don't know about Florida, but in Massachusetts, its not as simple as the phone company deciding they like a piece of land, and they'll go ahead and plant a tower there. That might be the first step, but the next half dozen steps involve getting permits and authorizations from the Town's Zoning and Planning Boards.

It's not necessarily a bad idea, just something to keep in mind.

As for a Middleman, you might look around and see if there are any Municipal Law Firms in your area. Since these are the guys who handle the zoning permits and such like, they *might* be able to give you a referral.
posted by instead of three wishes at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2012

Or, you could go with tilde's suggestion, since that seems massively on point!
posted by instead of three wishes at 10:14 AM on May 1, 2012

So the company I work for used to do a lot of initial environmental assessments for cell tower sites, like back in 2002-2004. The reason I say "used to" is that in developed areas the market for new cell tower sites has really dried up -- the companies in the area probably have all the towers they need to cover that area. And if they don't, they generally choose new sites by looking for existing likely targets, like churches* or radio towers or billboards. They'd much rather co-locate with an existing tower-like object than build a new tower.

I'd suggest looking for companies who need exterior storage first. Some suggestions:

-Waste management companies, for exterior storage of dumpsters.

-Car rental companies, if he's located near a large airport; they frequently can't fit all the cars on their lot or lots and may need to park them on an off-site lot.

-Contractors, for equipment parking and storage.

-Adjacent and nearby building owners/operators. Does anyone need exterior storage space? (This is more common than you think.) Is anyone looking to expand their operations?

He could also try leasing space to individuals, say for RV or boat storage, but that would take a lot of time and lead to liability he probably doesn't want to get into. The better bet is having one company rent and manage the space, and carry their own insurance on the operations. (I'd also note that he'll want to use a lawyer for the lease, and preferably not allow potentially problematic uses like auto washing, maintenance, trash transfer or sorting, junkyard operations, etc.)

Also, if he has highway frontage, he could look into leasing space to a billboard company.

*Really. I've assessed a property that included a church/chapel with a multi-carrier scell tower.
posted by pie ninja at 10:24 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Once upon a time I did some marketing for a cell site leasing middleman-type company. They're looking for pre-existent height - they don't want to build a tower themselves.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:11 AM on May 1, 2012

According to a company which specializes in exactly this sort of negotiation, it's not a very likely proposition.

TL;DR: If they wanted a tower there, they'd have one there already. But definitely explore that site to get a feel for the industry and issues.
posted by Myself at 2:23 PM on May 2, 2012

*Really. I've assessed a property that included a church/chapel with a multi-carrier cell tower.

I bet that's fairly common. Older churches selected hilltops from which to "broadcast" their church bells, and church construction seems to lead population growth, so the church grabs a large slab of land while it's cheap(er). So you have a largely unused area, and possibly a steeple to latch on to.

Anyways, OP, it seems the wireless business is more complicated than you'd imagine. Companies like American Tower (to pick the first google result) build the tower and lease it out. If you've ever looked at a tower, there's a ton of different antennas and they're not all from the same tenant. I suspect you can have all the big phone companies on one tower, plus other frequencies you and I have never heard of for transportation and telecommunication.
posted by pwnguin at 9:37 PM on May 2, 2012

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