The Real Deal Miami

As buildings green, stakes rise

By Alexander Britell | January 11, 2011 08:17AM

The Wells Fargo Financial Center and 1450 Brickell, the two office towers that collectively added more than 1.3 million square feet to the downtown submarket, have different developers and looks. But they have one thing in common: They’re both completely green.

The two towers are the standard-bearers of the new trend in Miami Class A space: Go green or go home.

Wells Fargo and 1450 Brickell have attracted tenants with a host of amenities led in no small part by their LEED certifications.

As commercial brokers still struggle to fill space and vacancy rates slowly head downward, green certification is becoming not just a standard, but a requirement to compete in the South Florida commercial market.

“Whether it’s LEED or another certification, it is just going to be the standard for new office buildings going forward,” said Louise Bendix, a commercial real estate associate at Miami-based ComReal.

The LEED certification, which is given by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, involves a series of requirements for both new and existing buildings that make the structures greener — from more efficient use of energy and safer building materials, to outdoor space.

Another requirement is hiring a commissioning agent — a third-party engineering firm, prequalified by the Green Buildings Council — to make sure that all of a building’s systems that use energy are operating efficiently.

“If you go back to four years ago, developers hardly knew what the word LEED meant,” said Rob Hink, principal at the Spinnaker Group, a firm that provides LEED consulting and acts as a commissioning agent for buildings. “Now it’s gotten to the point where, to be competitive in the Class A marketplace, you have to be LEED certified.”

The Spinnaker Group was the LEED consultant and commissioning agent for both 1450 Brickell and for the Wells Fargo Financial Center, which was known as the Met 2 Financial Center during construction.

A survey of the Green Buildings Council’s website shows 25 buildings in Miami-Dade County either having achieved the certification or in the process of working toward it, although Bendix cautioned that the process can prove to be too daunting for some, especially lower-grade buildings.

“Once you get into the certification process, and learn how involved it is and how detailed it is — frankly, for some buildings it really isn’t worth it from a cost-benefit standpoint,” she said.

While the extra costs of certification can be intimidating, developers seem to be finding that there are other benefits to the extra work.

“Normally, you have disconnected parties putting [the building together],” said Bendix. “A commissioning agent helps to integrate those and the result is a much better building.”

For the moment, the requirement seems to be restricted to Class A buildings, mainly due to the increased costs. Another reason is that a number of companies now have in-house environmental standards governing their choice of office space.

“You have so many multinational entities looking for space, and one of their corporate requirements is that they are in a LEED-certified office building,” Hink said.

Even the state now says it looks for LEED certification in its choice of governmental office space.