Posted: December 01, 2008
Who owns Colorado: Xcel’s platinum high-rise
1800 Larimer, the first downtown Denver skyscraper since 1986, aims for the highest ‘green' certificationBy David Lewis
It’s just a hole in the ground today, but when the 22-story downtown office building opens at 1800 Larimer in June 2010 it is going to be two things Denver either never did have or hasn’t had since the Peña administration. Denver hasn’t had the construction of a high-rise office building since 1986, when 1900 Broadway went up around Holy Ghost Catholic Church. And Denver never has had a LEED Platinum-certified office building, to be precise a platinum pre-certified building. (1800 Larimer will have to be re-certified after construction.) This means 1800 Larimer’s infrastructure will comprise elements that highlight high-rises in Chicago and L.A. but never have here. It means that tenants will have to go out of their way not to qualify for LEED certification for their interior accommodations. The building has been 77 percent pre-leased by Xcel Energy, which will seek LEED Platinum for its interior finish. Signed tenants include Citywide Banks, which will host a drive-in window one floor below the structure’s quarter-acre roof garden; and a group of owner-related companies: Frederick Ross Co., Westfield Development Co., Westfield Capital Partners and Apartment Realty Advisors. Among other sales points, 1800 Larimer is being touted as a productivity booster. Studies at UC-Berkeley and elsewhere "show that if, because of the building’s clean air, employers can reduce one day of sick leave from their employee, it saves $1.40 a foot on their rent square footage, a huge number," says Randy M. Schwartz, chief operating officer of the building’s developer, Westfield Development. Tom Lee, Frederick Ross senior managing director-brokerage, backs the claim with a drawing of a side-section of a typical 1800 Larimer office space. First, what isn’t there? Columns. What is? For one, windows that reach from sills about eight inches off the floor to the 9-foot, 6-inch ceiling. For another, 1800 Larimer features an 18-inch-deep under-floor air system, a green feature seldom if ever seen in Colorado outside of a federal building, e.g., the nearby regional headquarters for the Environmental Protection Agency. The idea is the under-floor works like a huge air duct. Cool air is pulled through high-efficiency MIRV-13 air filters. Then convection sucks it into the office space through diffusers built into the 2-by-2 feet concrete slab floor. These diffusers can be placed anywhere in any number. For example, that would allow individual cubicle-dwellers to adjust the airflow and temperature in their space. (Diffusers also will "wash" the picture windows with air, adjusting their temperature.) In effect every floor space is just as comfy as every other. With the right kind of office partitions, employers can move employees around with minimal friction, or "churn." That’s an industry term for "moving people around your space," Lee says. "There’s constant churn going on in most organizations. Most times you don’t churn as much as you would like because it’s too expensive, which hurts productivity." The No. 1 complaint of office tenants everywhere is discomfort. "This is going to revolutionize office buildings the way air conditioning revolutionized the home 40 or 50 years ago and made it more livable," Lee says. The 1800 Larimer building embodies a new kind of structure, designed from the inside out much more than the outside in, the way impressive high-rises had been designed for decades. Which brings up the building’s exterior, which alternates clear glass with rectangles of blue glass (clear from the inside, incidentally). If the Web blogs are any guide, 1800 Larimer’s rectangles and its "hat" on top arouse much more emotion than its LEED features. That could be important because the high-rise lies within Denver Zone B-5, the Central Business District, which permits buildings 10 times the size of their lot, and next to Denver Zone B-7, the LoDo Historic Business District, which limits structures to two times their site. Tenants in a lot of little old LoDo buildings are going to be looking up at 1800 Larimer. Schwartz estimates the almost-$200 million building will cost about 5 percent more than it would have had it been built to conventional contemporary standards, short of LEED Platinum. The 1800 Larimer building’s advocate was Anne Hayes, Westfield Development’s vice president/project manager. "I was the catalyst," she says. "But it did not take long to get everyone on the bandwagon." One reason was that Westfield-Ross scenarios showed a likelihood that lease rates could be set high enough to please potential investors. "We are not tree-huggers, but we understand sustainability, we understand energy conservation and the whole green movement. It’s just best business practice in today’s world," Schwartz says. *1800 Larimer by the numbers* 43.6 percent — How much water use will be reduced compared to traditional Denver office buildings 30 percent — How much energy use will be reduced 35 percent — How much of the building’s core and shell electricity will be obtained from renewable energy sources 38 percent — How much more fresh air circulation than required by code
David Lewis is a freelance writer based in Denver.