A Green Amenity, Above It All
Office landlords have increasingly been wooing prospective tenants in recent years by marketing their buildings as environmentally friendly. Typically, these buildings are energy-efficient or recycle water. But even in these buildings, one environmental feature has been rare: a green roof.
Green roof projects – which feature extensive plantings on a rooftop or terrace – are popular with environmentalists because they reduce rainwater runoff. But most landlords of multitenant office buildings have shied away from incorporating green roofs into their renovation plans, because such features are relatively expensive to install and many roofs cannot be easily adapted.
In office buildings where green roofs exist, they are not necessarily available for tenants to use. But when they are accessible, landlords can market them as amenities.
Recently, green roof projects have been included in some top-to-bottom renovations of loft-style office buildings downtown. “Older loft buildings are more adaptable, because they have large footprints,” said Bruce S. Fowle, a senior partner at FXFowle Architects, who designed the rooftop terrace at 250 Hudson Street, which opened in the spring.
Mr. Fowle’s 8,000-square foot green roof is atop a 380,000-square-foot building that sits between Broome and Dominick Streets. It has two landscaped areas, with a mixture of grasses and flowering plants. The newly planted trees may be diminutive, but they are growing 15 stories above the sidewalk. A patio covers almost half the common area, and all the workers in the building – more than 500 in total – have access.
In addition, a green roof is under construction at 160 Fifth Avenue, a nine-story, 107,000-square-foot office building near Union Square. And several distinct green roof spaces were part of the renovation of 200 Fifth Avenue, in the Flatiron district.
Mr. Fowle said that landlords usually considered installing a green roof only when replacing an old roof or as part of a major renovation. Although older loft-style buildings can be well suited to this feature, he said, it would be difficult to add green roofs to glass office towers, because they tend to be tall and skinny, with very little rooftop space per occupant. Also, such roofs often hold a lot of mechanical equipment.
The building at 250 Hudson Street, an 80-year-old former printing shop, recently underwent a $30 million renovation. Most of the money went for upgrades to the mechanical systems and elevators, but roughly $3 million was spent to create the green roof.
Jonathan Resnick, the president of Jack Resnick & Sons, which has owned the building for decades, said the main expense for the green expanse was in reinforcing the roof to bear up under 90,000 pounds of soil and a large wooden trellis – 80 feet long, 25 feet wide and 11 feet tall.
But Mr. Resnick said the green roof was worth the extra cost. He now includes pictures of it in the marketing materials for the building, and he says he thinks it will be a big draw for tenants.
More than 80,000 square feet of space is available in the building. The entire fifth, sixth and seventh floors are for rent, with floor plates of 27,000 square feet each. Half of the third floor is also vacant. Mr. Resnick plans to install three prebuilt offices on the third floor, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet apiece. But the building is mostly occupied now, because several tenants signed leases in early 2008,when the renovation work was just beginning and the commercial real estate market in New York was more robust than it is today.
Several landscaped exterior spaces were incorporated in the renovation of 200 Fifth Avenue, a 15-story 850,000-square-foot building that sits opposite Madison Square Park, in the heart of the Flatiron district. A restaurant being designed for the roof will occupy 6,000 square feet of space. Grey Global, an advertising agency, which is the anchor tenant in the building, will have exclusive access to two landscaped patios – one on the rooftop and one on a terrace in the middle of the building. The landlord has also built a 25,000-square-foot common garden area on the rooftop for the rest of the tenants to use.
“This is a great amenity for employees to relax and commingle,” said David W. Levinson, the chairman and chief executive of L&L Holding, which owns 200 Fifth Avenue. “And culturally, that is very good for your business.”
As amenities, green roofs have been popular in high-end residential buildings in New York. But architects say that it is relatively rare for an owner of multitenant office building to install a green roof and allow all the workers in the building access to it.
The handful of New York landlords who have gone to the extra expense are highlighting the green roofs in their marketing campaigns. But so far, the appeal of this relatively novel amenity had not been able to counteract the forces of a weak economy.
Grey Global, which signed a lease a couple of years ago for 340,000 square feet from the seventh to the 14th floors in 200 Fifth Avenue, is the only office tenant that the landlord has signed. Roughly 340,000 square feet is available in the building, spanning the entire second through sixth floors, and half of the seventh floor.
Although green roofs might be difficult to install atop existing skyscrapers, they have been worked into the design for new office towers, said Dan Shannon, a principal of the architecture firm Moed de Armas & Shannon.
Mr. Shannon has included this feature in a new 30-story glass tower at 510 Madison Avenue, on the southwest corner of 53rd Street, which is being developed by the Macklowes, a New York real estate family. It will have a 7,000-square-foot green roof on the sixth floor that will be accessible to all the tenants.
“The use of exterior space in commercial office buildings has been overlooked in New York,” Mr. Shannon said. But he said that zoning regulations required architects to design setbacks in new office towers, and there was no reason that they couldn’t include green roofs in these spaces.
WRITTEN BY: J. Alex Tarquinio PUBLISHED IN: New York Times DATE: September 29, 2009