ULI-Colorado Speaker Event Series:
A festive holiday spirit was the backdrop for ULI Colorado’s Explorer Series event entitled Recharging Colorado-How New Energy and Smart Land Use are Growing our Job Base. It was held at the LEED-Certified Xcel Energy Building Headquarters at 1800 Larimer in downtown Denver. This forum featured a host of experts offering their perspectives on Colorado’s New Energy Economy and its implications for real estate, job creation and climate initiatives. Denver Mayor and Colorado Governor Elect John Hickelooper were among those offering insights on the state’s emerging challenges and developments as Colorado continues its transition to a green economy.
William Moser, Chair of ULI Colorado kicked off the event with a few brief thoughts about ULI’s continued leadership in furthering emerging real estate develpments. This was followed by an introduction of the first panel by Michael Leceese, executive director of ULI Colorado. This “Art of the Deal panel, consisted of Kristen Karanbensh, director of real estate at Xcel Energy, Doug McNichol, sr. preconstruction manager at Mortenson Construction, Randy Schwartz, xxxx of Westfield Development and Tom Wuertz, xxx of RNL.
Kristen provided a brief overview of the 1800 Larimer Building and its role as the new headquarters for Xcel Energy. She highlighted its distinction as the first new high rise building built in downtown built in downtown since 1986. It is now home to over 1,300 Xcel staff. Kristen says that Xcel is targeting a transition of 30% of its power portfolio to renewable energy by 2020. She cited the utility company’s emergence as a top wind power provider in the U.S.
With respect to the new headquarters building, she noted several key factors behind the site selection of 1800 Larimer: economics, location, occupancy timing, mass transit proximity and future growth opportunities. She also discussed the emphasis placed on healthy work spaces at Xcel, now a key element of the company’s corporate values and goals. This includes integrated workspaces that promote flexbility and fresh air. Kristen estimates that over ninety percent of company staff now have access to natural sunlight at their desks and workstations.
Randy provided an overview of the property development logistics, namely, why the 1800 Larimer site was selected as well as the push to ensure LEED certification. He noted that selecting a B-5 zoning district was paramount to meeting their long-term goals and objectives relative to the project. The huge economic benefit of being able to attract Xcel Energy was mentioned as a key catalyst to the project
Randy also highlighted the decision to pursue LEED Platinum status, citing the myriad green energy features as a key driver to tenant attraction and satisfaction. He indicated that leasing efforts began about five months ago and that deals have been inked for two of the floors (50 % of the available space). These tenants are discovering that that the overall efficiency of the building has had the effect of reducing their overall space requirements. Also, the buildings sunlight soaked views from energy efficient windowns has been a driver of interest.
Tom offered some valuable insights into the design aspects of the project. He discussed how the building’s orientation at 18th and Larimer offers the ideal setting in terms of creating “urban context”, a key driver for the layut of the lobby and the massing of the building. The design benefits of the blue window panels on the exterior were also cited as a key component of the buildings role as a downtown entry piece.
Tom also explored some of the “green” benefits that were integrated into the design of the building. These included highly efficient building floorplactes, the effect of the building’s verticality in reducing the heat island effect, and environmental elements which allow the building a 45% water usage reduction versus similar buildings.
Doug closed the main remarks by noting that the interdisciplinary project team put together by Westfield was the primary catalyst to success. He praised the collaborate work of the designers, project managers, contractors and others in their efforts to effectively move this prized efforts forward amid tough economic times.
A number of final points were offered via the question and answer session that concluded this panel discussion:
- Xcel’s lease term for the building is 15 years. It was felt that similar construction projects of this magnitude could be financed despite continued uncertainties in the real estate market.
- There has been robust demand among tenants wanting to relocate in this building
- The cost associated with pursuing LEED Platinum versus Gold status was approximately 6% of contruction cost with one-third of this cost assocated with this bump-up.
- Panelists mentioned that one of the biggest lessons learned was the importance of “getting the project right the first time.” They all agreed that this project achieved this objective.
Event attendees were then ushered upstairs to a mini-exibit gallery of green building and new energy companies. This floor of the building featured spectacular views of the city from multiple vantage points. Wine and other beverages were provided over the course of this networking time.
The featured speaker for this part of the event was John Hickenlooper, current mayor of Denver and Governor elect for Colorado. He talked about the emerging transformative impact of the new green economy in terms of the future of the state. His message to attendees: That the State of Colorado is uniquely positioned to take advantage of changing, turbulent time and that we must remain diligent in working together to catapult the state to top status. He touted the collaborative efforts currently occurring statewide, specifically highlighting the regional collaboration occurring with Fas Tracks project, the largest voter approved transportation project in the nation. Hickenlooper also shared his plan for boosting statewide economic development, noting that he will be spearheading a initiative to tour all 64 Colorado counties in the hope of garnerning valuable feedback from businesses and citizens.
The mid-afternoon discussion entitled New Energy and Jobs featured the following panelists: Tom Clark, Executive Vice President, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Susan Innis, Manager Vestas America, Jeff Bedard, National Renewal Energy Labs and James XXXX, XXX of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Tom spoke about the promising long-term economic prospects of Colorado. He stated that the increase in employment growth in Colorado is a respectable 3.5%. and that the green sector represents a good future bet. As a result, he noted that everyone (out-of-state companies) are looking at Colorado because of its long-term potential. While the EDC is currently pursuing 7 innovation sectors, 40% of the firms projects involve cleantech companies looking to relocate to Colorado.
Susan talked about the efforts of the Colorado based Vestas America, the worlds largest producer of wind turbines. The are four manufacturing facilities in the states: Pueblo, Denver, Brighton and Windsor. She’s believes that on the heals of Governor Ritter’s efforts, there is lots of momentum for the clean energy sector in Colorado.
Jeff contrasted the efforts his company is involved with in Hawaii with those occuring in Colorado. The source of 90% of the energy generated in Hawaii is imported oil. The U.S. military uses 24% of the energy generated in that state. He noted that Hawaii views Colorado as a model for renewable enrgy efforts. Following on that, the University of Hawaii is pursuing serval initiative through its Center for Renewabe Energy to become the the premier entity for these efforts in the world.
James noted that more Americans cited conservation over efficiency as the key to energy savings. He believes that the latter is of greater importance despite the fact that “energy efficiency” is not very sexy in terms of perception. The real opportunity according to James is in the high savings potential associated with retrofitting existing infrastructure. He believes that there needs to be a more profound focus on this area.
The question “what is the biggest opportunity for businesses in terms of the green economy,” was posed to the panelists. Susan indicated that it was the opportunity to expand the existing supply chair. For Jeff it was integrating energy jobs with existing businesses. James cited the amazing number of new job opportunities for retrofitting buildings than ever before. Tom mentioned the opportunity to influence public perceptions regarding the value of solar energy. Specifically the emergence of “thin firm” solar holds tremendous potential.
When asked “what’s the biggest future risk”, Susan noted the lack of a comprehensive energy policy. Tom noted the lack of purposeful innovation. He pointed out that once our nation gets good at Math and Science, the nation will be good at innovation. James said that there is the thought in some circles that it is ‘too little, too late,” in terms of the race to go green. He also noted the problems associated with greentech projects such as those in solar being far more complicated to finance than most real estate deals. Susan was hopeful that the new green investment tax credit will pass. Tom cited the advantages of living in Colorado; James was inspired by the community and the people.