By Eddie Kim | Downtown News

DTLA - It's hard enough to earn the country's highest environmental certification with a brand new development. Doing it with a century-old building requires jumping through a whole different set of hoops. 

With Earth Day landing on April 22, Los Angeles Downtown News spoke with RRP Executive Vice President Reed Garwood, who oversees development, to glean why and how PacMutal became one of Downtown’s green highlights. 

Yet, the PacMutual campus at 523 W. Sixth St. accomplished just that. In February, the three-building Financial District complex became the oldest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-certified building in Southern California. The designation was secured by Rising Realty Partners, which bought the complex for $60 million two years ago and spearheaded a $25 million renovation to convert the three structures (built in 1908, 1921 and 1926) into creative office space. 

With Earth Day landing on April 22, Los Angeles Downtown News spoke with RRP Executive Vice President Reed Garwood, who oversees development, to glean why and how PacMutal became one of Downtown’s green highlights. 

Los Angeles Downtown News: Snagging a LEED Platinum designation is a big victory considering the age of the buildings. What features make the building green?

Reed Garwood: There are several green features, both visible and behind-the-scenes. One would be the waterless urinals and low-flow toilets, which save a lot of water. We’re using green air filters in a more efficient system so the air is cleaner for our tenants. There are other basics like recycled carpet, low-energy LED lighting and more comprehensive recycling and green cleaning programs throughout the campus. We’ve also installed six Zipcar stations to encourage tenants to bike to work or take public transit, while giving them an option if they need to drive somewhere. 

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges in working toward the LEED goal?

A: There was a particular challenge with the Sixth Street courtyard, where we had to demolish old retail and refit everything with an eye toward environmental sustainability. Even the demolished materials all had to be recycled. You have to keep in mind that we weren’t planning for a particular LEED designation — when buying the whole building, it’s hard to know where on the LEED scale it can fall. We worked with consultants to assess the building from top to bottom and establish a baseline to build our goal off of. 

The good news for us is that the building as-is was within LEED Gold pretty easy. But we decided to go beyond that to the Platinum designation because tenants really appreciate sustainability qualities and it can sway a prospective tenant. For us, it reduces overall operating costs over a long time.

 

Q: Were there any green features that didn’t come to fruition?

A: Some things we looked at that never came to be were rooftop related. We wanted rooftop gardens, and there were a few spots that could have worked, but the problem was in adding weight to the roof. Another idea was using solar panels to create power for the PacMutual campus, but there wasn’t enough square footage to justify doing it.

Q: What sort of feedback have you gotten about the sustainable features from tenants?

A: The general reaction has been that they’re happy about being in one of the only historic buildings in the state with LEED Platinum certification. They also like the idea of outdoor greenery, with the 80-foot live green wall and pocket park that’s coming. The Zipcars and the EV charging stations are popular, and the large amount of natural light throughout the building, which is considered by LEED, is a big plus, too.  

Q: Why is building with an eye toward sustainability and environmental responsibility important to a developer?

A: Downtown as a whole is going through a renaissance, and we don’t see a renaissance without sustainability. We and other building owners need to pursue LEED status not just for the designation, but for the sake of the future. For our other projects in Pasadena and elsewhere, building sustainably is a great priority. It’s about doing your due diligence and seeing where you can make a positive impact, whether it’s a redevelopment or a ground-up project. 

eddie@downtownnews.com.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014