By Jeff Ray

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The tallest building in New York City is now the tallest LEED-certified building in the United States. The Empire State Building’s remodel and retro-fit turned out to be close to a half a billion dollar project. About $120 million of that was solely dedicated to improving energy efficiency in the 80-year-old building. Johnson Controls won the contract. The job was completed just last year. Energy savings are already hovering just over 30 percent. The math shows that the owners of the building will get their investment back in only three years.

The business sense of this is obvious. First off, you have increased the value of the space to the renters. Everyone’s electric bill is now lower, reducing their overhead costs. Second, you really didn’t spend any money doing it; you are getting it all back in three years and, after that, it’s all gravy.

But it is not the type of project that suits the impatient. The retro-fit took five years. It took a year just to do all 6,500 windows.

empire Sundance Square Making Energy Efficient Push

Clay Nesler is the president of Johnson Controls. He mentions, as example of this slow pace, the 6,500 windows in the 101-story building. His company had to put the latest sun and heat blocking technology into a 1932 window frame. “These were existing windows taken out — 75 every night — brought to a small factory hidden on the fifth floor of the building, where they were remanufactured to super-insulating standards and installed the next night.”

Sundance Square in Fort Worth is currently in the midst of a similar energy efficiency makeover. They are doing it for all the same reasons that the owner of the Empire State building did it — people who lease their space are starting to demand lower energy costs. Those behind the new plans are very aware of energy efficiency. When Sundance Square built the Wells Fargo tower in the early 1980s, they built a command center to control the tower along with its sister building next door (the taller D.R. Horton tower). They slowly started wiring in the control system of all 42 of their buildings into this one control room. All of the air conditioning, lighting and water use are closely monitored from a single operations center.

It is extremely effective; they have become a nationwide case study on energy management of multiply facilities. Considering the age spectrum of their portfolio (the oldest building dates back in the 1800s, the newest are going up now) you can understand how they have learned how to increase energy efficiency over a wide variety of building types.

The operations manager, John Pribble, speaks with pride. “We have fine-tuned this is to where we are about as efficient as we can be,” he said.

fw Sundance Square Making Energy Efficient Push

Most of the energy use renovation comes when a tenant moves out. But since occupancy in the Square right now is over 90 percent, that is a slow process. They are working on bigger projects, like replacing the air conditioning systems with more efficient ones. Another big project already in the works — upgrading all of the elevators, a move that delivers a whopping 40 percent energy savings. But upgrading them all will take two years.

“There is a certain amount of time that is required. You can’t take a restroom or an elevator when someone needs it every day,” said Johnny Campbell, president of Sundance Square.

And in this is the paradox of commerce. The reason that it’s so important to make commercial buildings more energy efficient is the same reason that it’s so hard to do. It’s difficult to make room for renovation when the wheels of commerce make the space so full.

The mangers of Sundance Square are currently in construction of three new buildings in the heart of the district. All three buildings are designed to be LEED-certified, a much easier process in new construction then in renovation of old construction.

If you know the history of Sundance Square, and the long-range vision and planning it took to create the district then, it is difficult to contain the anticipation that the next two years will bring.

This point is best told, I believe, with a personal story of moving to Fort Worth. I had been here two days, living in a hotel room in Arlington and looking for an apartment to rent in the Fort Worth area. I had already started work and only had the evenings to scout out general locations. Someone at the station, of course, told me about Sundance Square — that it was a good place to go eat and witness the heartbeat of the city (so many urban centers are blighted, it was a joy to see a vibrant downtown). I did what many tourists and newcomers likely do. I decided to start at the ‘square’ and work outwards, exploring the area.

There was no ‘square.’

In two years, there is going to be one, it took about 20 years to make it a reality. In the mind’s eye, this is the last step needed to complete the idea that is ‘Sundance Square.’ Below you will find a couple of the artist renditions released two weeks ago, showing what the public space will look like. I can only imagine how the creators of the downtown district will feel walking around in the ‘square,’ spending decades to build a body and frame that is now finally getting its heart.

draw1 Sundance Square Making Energy Efficient Push

draw2 Sundance Square Making Energy Efficient Push

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