Leading the way on LEED

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April 1, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Loring Park.
File photo
Sarah McKenzie
Two downtown neighborhoods have ambitious goals to become more sustainable

 

Community leaders are exploring ways to make two downtown neighborhoods LEED certified.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, is typically something new buildings apply for to demonstrate their commitment to green practices.

Now entire neighborhoods can earn the special LEED designation, and there are efforts underway to have Loring Park and the neighborhood surrounding the new Vikings stadium go through the certification process.

A neighborhood that achieves a LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) designation is walkable, has ample open space, a variety of transportation options, a variety of housing types and green buildings and infrastructure.

Sustology, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that promotes sustainable practices, is leading the campaign to make new development around the new Vikings stadium LEED-ND.

“It’s such an opportunity,” said Craig Wilson, principal and CEO of Sustology. “It would really put Minneapolis on the map.”

Wilson pointed to other sustainability parks around the country as something Minneapolis leaders should rally behind. Denver and Houston, for instance, have created parks to showcase sustainability innovations.

Sustology’s vision for the stadium district has been endorsed by the neighborhood groups Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc. (EPNI) and the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, as well as the East Downtown Council.

David Fields, community development coordinator for EPNI and a member of the Vikings stadium implementation committee, said Elliot Park and other areas on the east side of downtown already has many strong features that would help it achieve the LEED designation.

“This is because LEED-ND is about more than just design and building practices,” he said. “It also includes categories for achieving and sustaining economic and social equity within the community. So, Elliot Park has always intended to foster new development that, taking into account the unique characteristics of our community, would promote many of the goals of LEED-ND.” 

David Wilson, managing director for Accenture and co-chair of the stadium implementation committee, said the committee has outlined a vision that calls on the stadium neighborhood to meet LEED standards.

“The key question I have is what the additional costs are for LEED ND certification — both from a development perspective and from a consulting/certification perspective,” he said.

Wilson of Sustology said they are going to conduct a study to try to determine the costs of going through the certification process.

He said some people have misconceptions that the process is cumbersome and too costly.

“There’s a myth that it’s expensive because people look at the upfront costs and not the return on investment,” he said.

He pointed to Marquette Plaza as an example of a building that has gone through a sustainability makeover and now saves money on energy costs and uses far less water. It’s the first LEED Platinum building in Minneapolis.

As for improving the area around the Vikings stadium, Wilson said there needs to be stronger connections between Elliot Park and the riverfront, improvements to make the streets more walkable and major investments in infrastructure to manage stormwater.

The neighborhood group Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) is also pursuing LEED-ND certification as part of its master planning process.

A draft of the master plan is now going through a 45-day public review process. The Minneapolis Planning Commission is expected to review the plan the end of June. 

Highlights of the plan include protecting the historic character of Loring Hill, creating a safer and revitalized Nicollet Avenue, greening and revitalizing Harmon Place, making pedestrian infrastructure improvements through the neighborhood and making Loring Park a LEED-certified neighborhood.

Loring Park already has many things going for it when it comes to sustainability. It’s diverse, walkable, has ample green space and a variety of transportation options.

Its weakness, however, is older buildings that aren’t as energy efficient as they could be. That will be the focus area as the neighborhood moves forward with the certification process, said John Van Heel, chair of the neighborhood’s master plan committee.

The neighborhood could also do a better job of wetland conservation in Loring Park and reducing surface parking — an issue throughout downtown.

No Minneapolis neighborhoods have achieved LEED-ND certification to date. Excelsior & Grand, a roughly 15-acre mixed used development in St. Louis Park, was the first neighborhood in the Midwest to complete the certification process.