In Fremont, a different kind of living building is in the works: it’s being built by a private developer.Skanska USA’s first development effort in the Seattle market. (Talk about a way to come to the market with green guns-a-blazing!)
Brooks Sports is the anchor tenant and will take 80,000 square feet and move 300 employees into the space in late 2013. Skanska said it would lease the site from the owner, Fremont Dock Co. The site is at 3400 Stone Way N., next to the Burke Gilman Trail and near Lake Union.
This project is of course fascinating because it’s a living building, widely considered the toughest green building certification on the planet. But another thing that makes it stand out is who’s building it. All living buildings on this coast that I’m aware of are built by schools (University of British Columbia’s CIRS project); nonprofits (the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle); consortium’s of city groups or donors (The Bertschi School Science Wing); or partnerships involving all of the above (the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland). There’s also a few home projects thrown in. These groups have various resources (tax credits, donors, endowments etc.) that a standard developer doesn’t have access to.
Skanska’s project in Fremont is the first I’m aware of to be built by a commercial developer on its own. Granted, it is being self-financed. But the fact that Skanska is building it means the company sees a future in living buildings. It’s taking a chance! In the scale of things, it will be incredible to see how this project works out because it will inevitably be used as a living building test case for other developers.
Living buildings are fascinating creatures but they’re not cheap. Generally, I’m hearing that developing a living building costs a third more than a standard project. Schools and nonprofits are willing to make that investment. But the formula gets more complex with private development. Adding to the complexity, Skanska is aiming for its project rents to be market rate.
Chris Rogers of Bullitt’s development partner Point32 says Bullitt’s space will be market rate too, though it’s being marketed towards environmentally-minded businesses and organizations. The Cascadia Green Building Council is one tenant. For these organizations, the environment is a critical part of what they do. For Skanska’s more mainstream tenants, locating in a living building says they care. But Skanska’s also got to do more convincing.
In this DJC article from last June, Peter Busby of Vancouver’s Busby Perkins + Will said it cost his team $100,000 to go to living building status on two Vancouver projects. He said it generally costs $40,000 to have a project certified LEED gold. The Bullitt Center project is costing about $30 million, with Bullitt putting up half that amount and borrowing the rest from US Bank. Rogers of Point32 says a lot of the cost is a first-cost premium, because it’s the first time his team (or any team) is moving through a living building project of this size with the city. But there’s still a premium.
According to the International Living Future Institute, it costs $20,000 for living building certification of a building that is between 107,640 and 538,195 square feet.
Skanska’s project is also interesting because of what it could bring to the neighborhood. The end of Stone Way near Lake Union has a handful of stores but is kind of a dead zone. In a Seattle Times story, Ryan Gist, a neighbor called it “an odd, pseudo-industrial street that really doesn’t do much for the neighborhood.”
Once complete, the ground floor of this building will house Brooks’ first ever retail concept shop. The goal is for the shop to act as a gathering place for the community and trail users.
There are some neighborhood concerns about the structure’s height. Here’s hoping a clean agreement can be made on that topic so this revolutionary project can move forward.
By the way, back in January, I wrote this post about the launch of Skanska’s Seattle commercial development division. In it, I said:
“I’m curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn’t be able to. Of course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.”
I don’t want to say I told you so but it’s fair to say this project falls to the later half of that spectrum. Now the question is to see how it plays out.
P.S. It’s interesting to see the architecture firms with living buildings under their belts. This project is being designed by LMN. Bullitt’s is designed by Miller Hull. The Bertschi project was designed by members of KMD Architects. I’m going to be waiting to see how long it takes for the area’s other big green architecture firms to add a living building to their project list. At the current pace, I’d bet we’d see another two or three pop up.