The Net Zero Energy Building is Here

Design and Development of Commercial NZE

October 4, 2018/Green Building

The Net Zero Energy Building is Here

At Morgan Creek Ventures, we have an investment partnership premised on a triple bottom line of environmental sustainability, connecting with the local community and generating a return consistent with traditional real estate investment trusts. Our goal is to build a portfolio that would allow us to share information so that others could follow in our footsteps. Having completed the first two buildings, we are confident that we’ve created an impact project that will dually achieve a competitive return on investment.

At approximately 100,000 gross square feet, Boulder Commons is the largest multi-tenant building we know of in 2017 intended to achieve Net Zero Energy (NZE). This was corroborated by our recent review of the New Buildings Institute website, which indicated this was the first project of its scale in the U.S. striving to achieve NZE.

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Our design philosophy was born from a few words: “This is not a typical box.” Our commitment is two-fold: sophisticated design to elevate the tenant experience, and use of “off the shelf,” leading-edge building systems readily available to any developer in today’s marketplace. The centerpiece of our sustainability efforts is an east-facing wall and angled roof array of solar panels, allowing the building to produce its own energy. L.E.D. lighting, Variable Refrigerant Volume HVAC systems, thermally-coated, triple-pane windows, and a tight building envelope will optimize energy conservation and help create day-lit interior spaces. We also worked closely with a team of architects and landscape designers to design a building aesthetically on par with its sustainability achievements.

“We wanted the built space to propel tenants to engage with
the community around them,
and vice versa.”

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Community and connectivity have also been key focuses for MCV as we conceived of Boulder Commons. We wanted the built space to propel tenants to engage with the community around them, and vice versa. We re-imagined the lobby’s role as a common space, commissioning a local art gallery to install a rotating, public exhibit, and allowing tenants to use spaces within it for work and social gatherings. We dedicated the ground level to local businesses, to draw patrons to a streetscape including a coffee shop, a locally-owned restaurant concept, small retail spaces, and a hair salon. A private bike fleet and car share for tenants encourage alternative modes of transportation. Tenants are given all-inclusive passes to Denver and Boulder’s regional transit system, allowing them to take advantage of the building’s location 125 steps from an RTD transit station with local and regional connections. We initially courted “like-minded” tenants, including the Rocky Mountain Institute, and continued marketing the space to more conventional office tenants with a national presence, like CoreLogic, to foster a sustainable community while proving that this model can work well for anyone.

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While not without its challenges, as with any leading edge project, we recently delivered market rate returns, a solar wall/roof, and rental rates competitive with comparable, Class-A stock in our immediate surroundings. Our next challenge will be to prove that such an asset can be efficiently maintained to produce considerable returns over the long term. We’ll create pre-and-post-occupancy surveys for tenants, and use the results to impact behavioral change over time. Consistent with our mission, we hope the surveys will influence best practices for use of alternative transportation and energy use at home, instilling a more sustainable overall mindset in our tenants.

While these two buildings represent our most progressive iteration to date, our next project will expand on what we’ve learned about this niche of the commercial market. Stay tuned for our next phase of commercial office space, and as we explore integrating the latest in temperature control and home automation as part of our upcoming foray into Net Zero residential. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

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