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Monday, March 4, 2013 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.
Tenants for Bullitt Center must think green
By Eric Pryne
Seattle Times business reporter
Tenants who want to lease space at what’s probably the greenest office building in the world have to do more than promise to pay their rent on time.
The first ones began moving into the just-completed Bullitt Center on Capitol Hill last week. The building’s owner, the environment-focused Bullitt Foundation, expects tenants will be partners in helping the project attain its groundbreaking goals.
Among other things, the leases they are signing require them to:
• Limit energy and water use to meet lean annual “budgets” set by the center.
• Forgo any new office furniture that contains formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds or other components considered toxic.
• Position each worker’s desk within 30 feet of one of the center’s huge windows, to ensure access to daylight and fresh air.
With all these rules come potential rewards. For instance, if tenants don’t exceed their energy budgets — and if the Bullitt Center operates according to plan — no one will pay an electric bill.
The six-story center has been designed to generate as much electricity as it consumes over a year — the sprawling solar array that overhangs the roof will even export power to Seattle City Light when it generates more than the energy-sipping building needs.
If the Bullitt Center sells more electricity to the city utility than it buys annually, tenants will get a piece of the profit in the form of a rent credit.
But the companies and organizations that have leased space in the Bullitt Center so far say they’re making the move not because of dollars and cents, but because they want to be part of something pioneering that reflects their values.
Consulting firm Intentional Futures has signed a five-year lease for the entire fifth floor. “We see the Bullitt building as a strong reflection of the work we try to do every day,” says founder Ian Sands.
Video-production company Interchange Media Art Productions is taking the equivalent of 400 square feet. The Bullitt Center “pretty much manifests everything I believe in,” partner Michele Gomes says.
The $30 million Bullitt Center, at 15th Avenue and East Madison Street, is a building with an agenda: Revolutionize how commercial buildings are designed and built.
They’re getting greener, Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes has said, but not fast enough to combat climate change and other pressing environmental problems.
So the foundation set out to build the greenest building possible itself.
The Bullitt Center aims to meet the rigorous requirements of the “Living Building Challenge,” the most demanding green-building standard on the planet.
Bullitt also wants to turn a profit. Hayes, who organized the first Earth Day, has likened the project to building the first Prius.
The Bullitt Center has been designed to provide all its own water from the rain that falls on its roof, and to process all its own sewage.
Timbers for the 50,000-square-foot building’s frame come only from forests certified as sustainable by the world’s toughest review body.
Builders weren’t allowed to use common building materials that contain PVC plastics, mercury, cadmium and about 360 other substances considered hazardous. The building has no parking for tenants’ cars, only for bikes and delivery vehicles.
Extra-high ceilings, narrow floor plates that allow daylight to penetrate to the building’s core, and a multitude of energy-saving features have cut the center’s projected consumption to one-quarter that of a conventional building.
During a sunny stretch last month, the rooftop solar array already was pumping kilowatts into the grid.
The Bullitt Center’s first signed tenants were organizations deeply involved in green construction and design, groups that considered a presence in the building part of their calling.
The Bullitt Foundation is occupying half the top floor. The International Living Future Institute, which devised the Living Building Challenge, and the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab, an arm of the architecture department, are taking the first floor and most of the second.
The institute and the lab, which helped brainstorm the building, also are partnering with the foundation to monitor the center’s performance and educate the public about it.
Tours are planned six days a week.
Other organizations involved in planning and building the center — including general contractor Schuchart — had tentatively planned to move into the building but later backed out.
Schuchart’s building-division manager, Casey Schuchart, says the company concluded it would rather own its headquarters than rent.
In recent weeks, however, the Bullitt Center has been signing tenants with no link to the building’s origins or mission.
They just like what it stands for.
“These are the early adopters,” says Hayes. “These are the people who start lining up at night for the latest iPhone.”
New tenant Intentional Futures was founded in 2010 by former Microsoft executives. It calls itself “a product envisioning, design and engineering studio” and is working on several projects for Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation.
There’s more risk in an untested, unconventional building like the Bullitt Center, founder Sands acknowledges — but that’s OK.
“Bullitt is a prototype,” the former director of envisioning at Microsoft says. “We believe in prototyping.”
What’s more, Sands says, the center’s vision, design and location on trendy Capitol Hill could help the company recruit new talent.
Point 32, the Bullitt Center’s developer, has leased the entire fourth floor and plans to sublease it as “co-work” space, shared by small companies and individuals.
Each of the 40 planned work stations is being marketed separately, for $650 to $750 a month, Point 32 principal Chris Rogers says. His firm is taking six, and so far eight more are spoken for.
Two of them belong to Interchange Media Arts Productions. Gomes, its chief creative officer, says promoting sustainability is one of the tiny company’s touchstones.“It’s going to be an incredibly inspiring environment,” she says.
A little pricey
In addition to the remaining 26 work stations on the fourth floor, 1½ floors remain for lease. Bullitt is asking $28 to $30 per square foot per year for them, plus an estimated $10.50 per square foot for taxes, insurance and maintenance.
That’s slightly less than most new buildings downtown are asking, commercial real-estate databases suggest. But the Bullitt Center is more than a mile east of downtown, far removed from its amenities and buzz.
Because of that, the center’s asking rents may be a little high, says Seattle real-estate economist Matthew Gardner. “But are they egregious? No.”
Oscar Oliveira, managing director at brokerage Broderick Group, agrees. “They’re not over market,” he says. “They’re in the ballpark.”
The typical office tenant probably would balk at some of the unusual terms in the building’s leases, he says.
Among other things, the contracts ask tenants to:
• Use the dramatic, glass-walled staircase rather than the elevator “whenever possible.”
• Encourage staff and guests to bus, bike or walk to the building rather than driving.
• Open at least part of their space to the public each Earth Day as part of a building-wide educational program.
But Bullitt doesn’t need to appeal to the typical tenant, Oliveira adds: “It’s going to attract like-minded people, people who want to be in that building and don’t care about watching every penny.”
The Bullitt Center is a niche product, Gardner says, but that niche is growing
The tenants who have signed on so far are much more enthralled by the building’s ultra-green vision than “the economics of super-efficiency, or not having to pay a water bill,” Hayes says:
“They’ve internalized these values in their own lives. They want to tie into something that they think represents the future.”
For the Bullitt Center, the future begins with an official grand-opening event next month — on Earth Day, of course.
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