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August 12, 2009 at 3:59 PM

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Mercy Corps new headquarters takes shape, Gates campus to follow

Posted by Kristi Heim

This post was written with Hal Bernton

Northwest non-profits have been making an impact around the globe, and now they're also helping to reshape the urban landscape back home.

At a time when many capital campaigns have come to a halt, two state-of-the art buildings are under construction to house the headquarters of growing non-profits.


Mercy Corps new headquarters in downtown Portland.

Mercy Corps' $37 million headquarters building in downtown Portland isn't scheduled to open for business until Oct. 9, but reporters were given a sneak peak today.

The building, which will replace six leased offices that house 150 Portland-based staff, includes solar panels, a green roof, natural ventilation and other energy-saving features that have earned it a LEED Platinum rating - the highest of a four-tiered certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The 80,000 square-foot headquarters will include a first-floor "Action Center" to educate people about global development issues and a space for Mercy Corp's Northwest staff, which is involved in aiding small entrepreneurs in the region. The building in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood will give the aid organization a much higher-profile in its hometown.

"A lot of people tell us that Mercy Corps is one of the best kept secrets in Portland, and we really haven't had a way to welcome people," said Paul Dudley Hart, a Mercy Corps senior vice president. "This is what the ground floor is about."

Mercy Corps, which also has an office in Seattle, operates in more than 35 countries with a budget of more than $300 million. The new headquarters has been financed by a mix of tax credits, grants, a $7 million loan and a $10 million capital campaign that is about $1.4 million shy of its reaching its goal, according to Mercy Corp officials.

The headquarters project involved renovating and adding on to a historic Skidmore Fountain Building that first opened to business in 1892 as a center for wholesale grocery distribution. The expanded structure includes four floors of office and working space and a partial basement.

The Action Center, which will be the center of public involvement, will feature four "training towers" where students and other visitors will be challenged to help tackle development issues. When the center opens in October, the training towers will include a look at war-torn Afghanistan, climate change in Niger and land reform issues in Guatemala.

Dudley Hart said that the building's costs were dramatically lowered by the grants and tax credits, and that the end result will be a big savings compared to trying to rent space in downtown Portland. The LEED Platinum rating also will yield energy cost savings in the decades ahead, and is expected to deliver a major reduction of the building's carbon foot print.

As part of the effort to green the headquarters building, there are no special set asides for employee parking, and most of the Mercy Corps staff are expected to walk, bike or take mass transit to work.

In Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's $500 million new headquarters is more than halfway finished. The foundation was originally scheduled to move into its campus in the winter 2010, but the current home page lists a move-in date of spring 2011. The 600,000-square-foot facility, with two 6-story office buildings designed by NBBJ, covers an entire city block. You can watch the progress on this Web cam, thanks to this report.

People from the Gates Foundation recently visited Mercy Corps in Portland to take a look at the center and compare notes as they develop plans for a similar public outreach. Both of the headquarters will change the way the groups relate to their communities by giving visitors a hands-on way to explore their work.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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