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Building Steals the Show at Green Leadership Gala

Written by Andrew C. Burr, CoStar.com

Rockville, Maryland, October 29, 2008
–  Tower Cos. and Lerner Enterprises Awaiting LEED Platinum Certification for a New Tower Near Washington, DC

Members of the commercial real estate community and other business sectors gathered Tuesday night in Rockville, MD, to honor 25 companies and associations for their leadership in sustainability, although the evening’s real winner may have been the remarkable new building where the event was held.

The ceremony was hosted by Washington journalist Mark Bisnow in conjunction with the Abramson family, which runs real estate development firm The Tower Cos., and the Lerner Family, which operates the real estate company Lerner Enterprises and owns a majority stake in the Washington Nationals baseball team (Nats President Stan Kasten was also in attendance). It was held at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard, the ultra-green office building co-owned by Tower and Lerner that delivered this summer just outside the Washington, DC, beltway.

The real estate groups that were recognized were Akridge, Clark Construction, Leo A Daly, CB Richard Ellis, Transwestern and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA): a handful of the industry’s most progressive green building advocates.

But for a majority of the other winners -- groups in the healthcare, law, nonprofit and technology sectors -- the event was likely their first jaunt inside a green office property.

On display was a compelling example of how exciting a LEED building can be.

The nine-story building, which serves as the headquarters for both Tower and Lerner, is registered for LEED Platinum, the highest level of certification offered in the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system.

Some of the building’s green features are immediately recognizable: a living roof that crowns the parking garage, waterless urinals in the bathrooms, and open floorplans that allow natural light to drench each floor. But to find others, a tour of the building is required, which Tower was more than happy to provide for interested guests.

In Tower’s space on the top floor, a CO2 monitoring system controls the replacement of stale air with fresh outside air. Kitchen cabinetry is made from sustainable bamboo, and kitchen countertops and carpets are made from recycled, non-toxic materials. Office lights brighten and dim automatically in response to natural light from the windows, and are automatically shut off at night. "There is no such thing here as someone forgetting to turn off their lights at night," said Jonathan Gritz, an analyst at Tower.

And about those tours: Tower films many of them for use later as green building educational materials, a program that earned it a LEED credit for innovation.

Overall, the building was designed to use 41 percent less energy than standard office buildings and almost 50 percent less water. It has already achieved EPA’s new "Designed to Earn the Energy Star" label, a tag for new buildings that do not yet qualify for the standard Energy Star label, which requires 12 months of utility bills. And all of the building’s energy needs come from wind power, which Tower purchases through local utilities for all of its properties.

The building also includes a touch of headiness that the Abramson’s have become somewhat known for: Tower’s office space has meditation rooms, while a 30-foot long block of backlit, Chinese onyx greets visitors and radiates light throughout the lobby.

Yet for all its flare and green fanfare, the building has yet to secure a tenant not connected to a Lerner or an Abramson, an indication of how different the leasing environment is now than just two years ago when the building broke ground.

In its third quarter Tenant's Guide, tenant advisory group CresaPartners said the leasing outlook for Washington suburbs located outside of the Capital Beltway is grim. In Maryland, very little new space is committed, the report said, and "Maryland's leasing history indicates [the new space] could take several years to lease."

According to CoStar's third quarter market report, vacancy in the Washington's I-270 Corridor, the submarket that includes Rockville, has been on the rise since the end of 2006. It is currently at a little more than 12 percent.

But as businesses look to scale back expenses, sustainability and energy-efficiency could become even more important. Aside from relatively clear-cut savings in energy costs, green buildings can help businesses cut costs associated with employees: a "return-on-rent" principle, said Marnie Abramson, principal and director of marketing and public relations for Tower.

In a study Tower conducted to quantify that principle, the company found that green building benefits at 2000 Tower Oaks could potentially save a tenant almost as much money as it would spend on rent there over the course of a year, through increases in worker productivity and reductions in employee turnover and sick leave.

"A lot of companies are using green buildings as part of their corporate strategy" to trim costs, Abramson said.

Speaking at the ceremony, Jeffrey Abramson, a partner at Tower, struck a broader tone, calling on lawmakers to create a national energy policy that would create jobs, invest in alternative energies, and help "rebuild our older, gas-guzzling buildings that we have inherited."

He gave a subtle nod to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, although he did not name him, before applauding the night’s honorees. No matter how the election turns out, he said, "tonight it is business that once again has not waited for government to do what is right and what is necessary. You are the green leaders and you will change America and its position in the world."



The judging panel consisted of the U.S. Green Building Council, National Capital Region; The Sustainable Business Network of Washington; The George Washington University; and The Tower Cos.

The full list of winners is:

Real Estate
  • Akridge
  • Clark Construction
  • Leo A Daly
  • CB Richard Ellis
  • Transwestern

Legal

  • Arnold & Porter
  • Bailey Law Group
  • Beveridge & Diamond
  • Finnegan
  • Weil Gotshal & Manges

Technology

  • Noblis
  • Lore Systems
  • Vista
  • SRA International
  • Tandberg

Associations

  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)
  • Consumer Electronics Association
  • American Chemical Society
  • Water Environment Federation
  • Mechanical Contractors Association

Medical

  • Shady Grove Adventist
  • Inova
  • Providence Hospital
  • GW Faculty Medical Associates
  • Sibley Hospital