When students look to store their belongings this summer for the following year, they will have a facility less than two miles away from campus as a new option.

U-Haul announced last week that it would convert the nearly 170-year old factory of C. Cowles and Company located in Wooster Square into a 2,000-unit self-storage facility with retail space and truck rentals. C. Cowles and Co. CEO Larry Moon sold the factory, which has produced both carriage and automobile parts, to U-Haul in April for $6 million.

The sale came as a surprise to city officials and community members — who were involved in the process through community meetings as well as tours — and assumed the property would be converted into residential space, according to New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said. Instead of housing thousands of self-storage units, many envisioned a residential development complex with roughly 150 apartment units, according to Nemerson.

U-Haul plans to start selling retail items and boxes, as well as renting trucks, on a limited basis in the next 30 to 40 days, U-Haul Connecticut President Pete Sciortino said. He added that during that time C. Cowles and Co. will increase its production to develop a backstock of automobile parts to help the company transition to its North Haven facility.

“We see a very big demand for self-storage in New Haven,” Sciortino said.

C. Cowles and Co. will move out “in the next few months,” Executive Vice-President of C. Cowles and Co. Rich Lyons said.

After this initial phase, U-Haul will work to develop roughly 150 self-storage units by March. Following that, the company will still need to add the remaining 1,850 self-storage units it is currently planning to have, as well as make the factory’s exterior more presentable and improve lighting in the area for safety, Sciortino said; he expects the final constructions to take between one to one and a half years. According to a U-Haul newsletter, the lot will employ six part- to full- time workers.

He added that the choice to buy the nearly two-century-old factory falls under U-Haul’s sustainability initiative to repurpose aging buildings.

Though the factory acquisition fulfills U-Haul’s sustainability initiative, the city had different ideas for the lot, Nemerson said, citing the potential 150-apartment complex.

Nemerson added that the city will lose tens of millions of dollars in potential revenue over the lifetime of the project by having the lot function as a storage facility instead of an apartment complex. The city would have made a profit through taxes and building permits, he said.

Despite the city’s potential revenue loss, the privately owned lot was not under city jurisdiction.

“It was up to the owner of the building to make the final decision,” local realtor Olivia Martson said. “U-Haul is a national company and they probably had a higher bid.”

The mayor’s office had been in contact with Moon since Mayor Toni Harp took office two years ago. During discussions about the project, nothing but residential usage was ever imagined, Nemerson said. A number of individuals bid on the site, and initially, it seemed Randy Salvatore — the developer behind the $100 million housing and commercial development project in the Hill neighborhood — had placed the winning bid of approximately $5.5 million, with the stipulation that the cost of any repairs for environmental hazards would be subtracted from that total. Salvatore would pay a price per constructible unit to Moon himself, Nemerson said.

Without the city government’s knowledge, U-Haul offered Moon $6 million for the factory in a deal with fewer stipulations than Salvatore’s, given that storage facilities require fewer environmental verifications than apartment complexes.

“I don’t think [Moon] ever thought that a storage facility could make a better offer,” Nemerson said.

Nemerson added that although the city had rezoned the land to permit residential areas, it never prohibited storage buildings and Moon accepted the offer without notifying the city of the transaction.

C. Cowles and Company started production in 1838.