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NEW YORK CITY-A green retrofit under way at the Empire State Building is using the iconic office tower as a test case in a program made public at a news conference on Monday. Along with cutting energy use at 350 Fifth Ave. by a projected 38% and reducing the building’s greenhouse gas emissions by thousands of tons per year, the program is intended to provide a reproducible model for existing buildings worldwide.

“We’re using the world’s most famous office building as our pilot project,” said Raymond Quartararo, international director at Jones Lang LaSalle, which is managing the project. “The real message is that this need not be confined to the Empire State Building,” added Quartararo during Monday’s press conference at 350 Fifth’s 80th-floor observatory. “This can be done in thousands of buildings around the world.” Added Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “They’re showing the rest of the city that existing buildings, no matter how tall they are, no matter how old they are, can take steps to significantly reduce their energy consumption.”

Spearheaded by the Empire State Building Co., which owns the property, the project is claimed to be the first integrated program that models the steps for reducing energy consumption and projecting cost savings, and also makes details of the process available to other landlords. A website describing the project in-depth is now live at www.esbsustainability.com. JLL’s partners on the project include the Clinton Climate Initiative, the Rocky Mountain Institute and Johnson Controls.

Quartararo tells GlobeSt.com that the green retrofit, in the works since early 2008, was integrated into an already-planned $500-million capital improvement program at 350 Fifth. “We stopped the capital program in its tracks and re-evaluated every step,” he says. The building’s owners, including Anthony Malkin of Empire State Building Co., gave JLL and its partners a mandate to “think outside the box” and go beyond easy solutions.

Malkin said that although neither LEED nor Energy Star guidelines were part of the eight-month planning process for the retrofit, the project is nonetheless eligible for certification through both programs. It will seek LEED Gold-EB for existing buildings and has been given an Energy Star rating of 90, putting the 78-year-old 350 Fifth in the top 10% of commercial buildings for energy efficiency.

Key elements of the retrofit include refurbishing the building’s 6,500 windows to reduce summer heat load and winter heat loss, adding insulation behind the radiators, upgrading the lighting in tenant spaces, replacing the air handling units, retrofitting the chillers, upgrading the building control system, introducing demand-control ventilation and incorporating individualized energy management systems for tenants. The integrated approach means, for example, that the existing chillers could be upgraded rather than replaced outright because the window retrofit reduces the load on the chillers, Quartararo tells GlobeSt.com.

Although JLL has been involved with high-profile new green construction such as the Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park, Quartararo says “it’s a bigger challenge to build an economic model with existing buildings.” Malkin, president of W&M Properties, which manages the Empire State Building and indirectly owns it, said at Monday’s conference that the retrofit will save $4.4 million in energy costs annually by 2013. He said he hopes that its example will influence lawmakers and other building owners.

At the same time, Malkin said he believes a greener 350 Fifth will be “more desirable in the marketplace.” A fact sheet on the project lists marketability as one of the top three goals, along with reducing energy use and improving tenant comfort.

The link between green and profitability was made repeatedly at the Empire State Building event. “We will never conquer climate change until we prove it’s good business to do so,” said former President Bill Clinton, who founded the CCI. Clinton said that while developing electric cars and harvesting energy from wind farms are important, “you have to be able to pick the low-hanging fruit.”

Greening the building is projected at $13.2 million in incremental costs and $20 million total costs, above and beyond the $500-million capital program. Malkin said his company is doing without financing on the retrofit because it’s in a position to pay cash.

Since not all landlords could swing a sustainability program without obtaining credit, the project’s partners are also working to devise a series of financing mechanisms that building owners could tap into. Based on meetings with lenders and other potential stakeholders, the partners hope to announce a financing blueprint within 60 to 90 days, Quartararo tells GlobeSt.com.

Quartararo says one way to help line up financing on a green project is to obtain a performance guarantee from the consulting company. Johnson Controls, which is providing energy services on the retrofit, has signed a contract guaranteeing that 350 Fifth’s greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 105,000 metric tons over the life of the contract, VP Iain Campbell said Monday.

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