Tom Burgess imagined Iron Gate Motor Condos as place for car enthusiasts to store their toys in one location and occasionally get together to network.
What the Geneva developer didn’t expect several years down the line was how much owners would connect as a community and how philanthropic they would become.
Going into its second year, Burgess said his Naperville condominium complex geared for automobiles started as a means to solve a basic problem faced by most car collectors: storage.
At some point, they run out of space in their own garage, friends’ garages and other facilities, he said. The motor condo allows car owners the ability to place their entire collection under one roof.
Burgess, founder of Burgess Commercial Real Estate in Aurora, said in 2005 he created his own car condo when he built an office in Aurora.
“It had everything I wanted except one. There were no car guys,” he said.
A decade later he would cut the ribbon on the 45-acre Iron Gate Motor Condos complex at 2212 Ferry Road, just west of Illinois Route 59. Once fully built out, the gated community will have 160 condominium garages and an automotive retail center.
Burgess found that placing car enthusiasts adjacent to each other created an immediate bond.
“Some are collectors, some race and other enjoy touring,” he said. “As different as all of us are, we all have one passion: automobility.
“They always talk about six degrees of separation; here it’s one,” he said.
Motor condos are more than garages to park cars; they are urban cabins where owners work, play and entertain.
On weekends when it’s warm, owners frequently drag grills, coolers and tables out of their garages for impromptu communal gatherings, Burgess said. In the winter, owners host game-day parties and family holiday get-togethers.
Most owners live within a 45-minute radius, or “half that depending on the car,” said Burgess with a smile.
Units feature a overlook loft – some have a third floor – that often is converted into living spaces with gourmet kitchens, wet bars with beer taps and wine storage, bathrooms with showers, pool tables, fireplaces and entertainment centers with surround sound and sectional sofas.
While zoning prohibits bedrooms, Murphy beds and pull-out couches give flexibility for visiting guests or late nights at the garage.
“It’s not just a guy-thing or a man-cave. It’s a family-cave,” Burgess said. “There are a lot of little kids.”
Burgess told the story of an owner who bought a Lego car set he and his son are putting together at the garage.
“The great thing is that you can spread out across the floor. When you’re done for the day, you don’t have to pick everything up or worry about family members stepping on it. You just close the door, and it will be there where you left off,” he said.
That love of cars is what continues from one generation to the next.
Walls in Burgess’ space are filled with race memorabilia and pictures of his father behind the wheel of different cars as well as photographs shot by Burgess’ daughter at car shows they attended together.
“The passion of automobility gets passed along,” he said.
Burgess said he continues to be amazed by how other owners elaborately customize their space to mesh with their individual tastes and personalities.
Some condos reflect nostalgic Americana and its motor-friendly Route 66 highway while others spotlight owners’ collections of toy cars or guitars. One has a half basketball court.
The open space makes for a perfect place for owners to host fundraisers for groups like Loaves & Fishes and 360 Youth Services in Naperville.
Iron Gate annual also sponsors events to benefit Cal’s Angels, a St. Charles-based pediatric cancer foundation created in memory of Cal Sutter, a South Elgin Little League All-Start who lost his battle with leukemia in 2006.
Burgess said in all, Iron Gate has raised $250,000 for charities. “That blows me away, the generosity of this group,” he said.
The space also is perfect for small business owners like Burgess, who set up offices and get to work adjacent to their car collection.
Between 15 percent and 20 percent of owners work on their own cars, though body work and painting are forbidden because of the fumes, Burgess said.
Such work will available at the motor plaza opening up in front of the condominiums along Ferry Road.
Slated to open this year is an auto detailer and car wash, a luxury car repair shop, an after-market electronics company, and a muscle car and classic car dealer. Other businesses specializing in high-end vehicles are being courted for the remaining space.
Work and sales have begun on the sixth of the proposed 13 condominium structures.
The smallest units – 20 feet by 40 feet, fitting up to six cars – start at around $136,000. Garages come with a viewing loft, 14-by-18-foot overhead garage doors, radiant heat, plumbing, floor drain and sprinklers.
Owners pay for utilities as well as assessments.
Car enthusiasts don’t have to own a unit to take advantage of some of the programs offered by Iron Gate.
On the first Saturday of the month, the association offers a chance to gather to learn, share information and network at its Chrome & Coffee. Upcoming topics are buying at auction Jan. 14, custom wheels Feb. 11 and preparing vehicles for spring March 11.
Besides the networking talks, three larger events are scheduled in 2017, including an International Auto Show June 25 to benefit Cal’s Angels, Cartoberfest Sept. 24 featuring German vehicles to benefit the Edward Hospital Foundation, and My Favorite Things event Dec. 7, which focuses on luxury and car-related merchandise.