SOUTH PORTLAND — What makes the best headquarters for a storage container business?

For Ben Davis, the answer is obvious – an even bigger container.

Ben Davis shuts the door on one of his company’s containers outside the retrofitted oil container storage space in South Portland. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

That’s how he wound up locating his personal storage container business inside a gigantic, unused oil tank on Lincoln Street in South Portland.

“We love the idea of repurposing industrial spaces,” Davis said. “We’re in the container business. This is just a big container – the ultimate container.”

The 80-foot-tall, 110-foot-in-diameter cylindrical tank/office is an outlier in that area of the city, which is surrounded by more than two dozen tanks holding oil, jet fuel, asphalt or another hazardous substance.

Instead of fuels or chemicals, Davis is filling his tank with luxury boats and classic cars. He plans to stack about 100 portable storage containers in and around the tank, part of his bid to compete against PODS and U-Haul self-storage containers with his new business, Portland Container Co. Davis said Portland Container will offer local storage and moving services from New Hampshire to Auburn, at cheaper prices than national businesses.

“It’s just damn cool,” Davis said, striding through a 15-by-20-foot rolling door that leads into the dark, cavernous interior.

Inside, three pleasure craft – the longest is 42 feet – are lined up with two smaller boats, a food truck and a couple of personal vehicles. Setting his business in an unused oil tank is just an “extreme” example of industrial reuse, like apartments in vacant mills or shipping containers converted into homes, offices or shops, Davis said. The interior of the tank is split into three sections, including the expansive main storage area and two smaller storage and workshop spaces.

It is also the perfect cold-storage solution for boat owners who don’t want to pay for heated space, or shrink-wrap their boats and leave them outside for the winter, Davis said. The tank is virtually impenetrable and its proximity to an active tank farm means there is a constant presence of law enforcement and Homeland Security officers.

“As far as securing your belongings, this is a ridiculously safe place,” Davis said. Most of the boats stored this winter are from clients of his other business, True Course Yachting, a yacht delivery and management company with offices in Yarmouth and Camden.

Emily Davis, Ben Davis’ sister and business partner, said she was initially apprehensive about his intention to set up shop in an oil tank.

“I was skeptical at first,” Davis admitted, but the reaction from clients has been positive.

“He has such innovative, imaginative ideas; this is just an example of that,” she said.

Brother and sister Ben and Emily Davis stand inside their retrofitted oil container in South Portland. Portland Container Co. has storage for boats and other items inside the container and movable storage containers will be placed outside.

AN EMPTY TANK, A NEW VISION

Retrofitting the tank was the brainchild of owner Ed Benjamin, who bought the structure when it became vacant about 10 years ago. Benjamin said he was intrigued by the prospect of using the tank after seeing a door cut into a container to hold coal at the nearby Sprague Energy tank farm.

“I thought, this is going to work well as a storage building,” he said.

To get the tank ready, he filled a 6-foot-deep underground base with debris from his demolition business, and capped it with concrete, creating a floor. He also lowered the ceiling, then cut four spaces in the building and installed rolling garage doors.

“I’m always thinking outside of the box. My wife would like to hang me, coming up with these ideas,” Benjamin said.

A couple of large boats in Portland Container Company’s retrofitted oil container storage space in South Portland. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Although his project has turned some heads, Benjamin doesn’t expect to retrofit more tanks. The public can’t get into the nearby Sprague tank farm and other locations without special approval from the Department of Homeland Security, he pointed out. Besides, Benjamin wants South Portland’s tanks full of oil and fuel, not sitting vacant. He’s infuriated by South Portland’s ban on crude oil exports and the ensuing legal challenge from Portland Pipe Line Corp. to overturn it.

“I’m not making this a trend in South Portland,” Benjamin said. “I believe we need the pipeline and I don’t want to see the tanks empty.”