A recipe for retrofits
Living City Block aims to help building owners reduce energy consumptionBy Mike Cote
The biggest stumbling block to making existing structures more sustainable is to justify the upfront expense. Sure, making an office more energy efficient will save money in the long run, but when budgets are tight, such efforts get put on the backburner.
Living City Block aims to change that dynamic by helping building owners band together to secure funding for sustainability initiatives, including renewable energy and water and wastewater management. The non-for-profit -- spun out of the Rocky Mountain Institute last year -- is working on a two-block project in historic lower downtown between 15thand 16thstreets and Wynkoop and Blake streets. It’s working on similar projects in Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, N.Y.
The goal is to “create an aggregation of building owners so that they can together accomplish more than they could ever accomplish own their own,” said Llewellyn Wells, president and founder of Living City Block. (Watch a video of Llewellyn Wells.)
The Denver project -- which aims to reduce its aggregate energy use by 50 percent by 2012 -- includes the Tattered Cover book store; Dixon’s and Gumbo’s restaurants; and the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado’s Alliance Center, where Living City Block is headquartered. The Alliance aims to make its building the first net-zero historical retrofit in the nation. The plan calls for a net-zero block by 2014 and for the project to create more energy than it uses by 2016.
The effort has earned corporate support from AT&T Colorado; the law firms of Moye White and Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck; and architectural firm RNL Design. Living City Block also has secured partnerships with the city and county of Denver, the Governor’s Energy Office, the University of Colorado at Denver and other local and national organizations.
Carolynne White, who leads the green building practice for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, said the firm is tapping attorneys from various fields to provide pro-bono help with such issues as taxes, real estate, corporate law, land use, zoning and green building.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a long time because we have a lot of clients who are owners of commercial office buildings in that mid range,” said White, a shareholder with the Denver-based firm. “There’s a lot of expertise and information out there -- about how to retrofit, what types of tax credits are available for retrofit, what kind of energy savings you can expect -- but there’s not really much targeted at that mid-range office property owner.”
White acknowledges that Living City Block will be breaking new ground.
“How do we pull together all the tax credits, incentives and different financing into a package that works to make this thing not only save energy but be profitable for everybody involved?” she said. “Those are exciting challenges to take on.”
The effort has plenty of cheerleaders but mostly in-kind support thus far (AT&T kicked in $10,000). For Wells, the challenge is to prove that the concept will work and be profitable for the participants. Living Block is seeking funding from various sources, including nonprofit foundations and the federal government.
“If the commercial markets aren’t able to take this work on over time, we’re not going to be able to get the kind of speed and scale we need to solve the problems we’re trying to solve,” Wells said. “Clearly, we have to show that you can do this kind of work in a way that is profitable for the building owners, vendors and financers.”
Working with century-old structures has its upside.
“Buildings that were built in the late 1890s and early 1900s were built before the age of free and easy energy so there weren’t air-conditioning systems. There weren’t massing heating systems,” he said.
“These buildings had to be designed in a way so that you could manage your natural resources – light and air movement and air flow…. Part of the work is getting those historic buildings back to some of the natural systems that they were built to function with in the first place.”
About Mike Cote
Mike Cote is the editor of Planet-Profit Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.