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Hines' net-zero tower just weeks from being occupied

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The second office tower of La Jolla Commons on Executive Drive in University Towne Centre is the largest commercial net-zero energy office building in the country.

It's one of the tough things about sustainability, according to Hines real estate firm Vice President Paul Twardowski: figuring out how to use technology to make building utility costs lower.

"That obviously is a marketing advantage," he said. "Potential tenants like to see the sustainability aspects, but not many tenants will make a leasing decision over that one individual aspect. It's usually a combination of factors and that's one of many."

About to unveil its second office tower at its La Jolla Commons campus on Executive Drive in University Towne Centre, Hines has moved on from years of research to execution in creating the largest commercial net-zero energy office building in the country. The future tenant of that tower, LPL Financial, has placed its chips on the vision of Hines and the campus co-owner, J.P. Morgan Asset Management. The vision, Twardowski said, is to create an offering to tenants unlike any other in the market.

"Our signing with LPL was simultaneous to us finally being ready to try it somewhere," Twardowski said of the combination of net-zero energy and tapping into of the creative office space trend. "And LPL is a company that very much wants to be pushing the envelope in terms of sustainability."

Ground broke on Tower 2 at La Jolla Commons in April 2012. The 13-story, 415,000-square-foot office building will be occupied only by LPL Financial, which in January 2012 signed a 15-year lease on the property. The firm plans to occupy the building in February, and hold its grand opening around April.

The four fuel cells that help Tower 2 achieve its net-zero energy status can produce up to 500 kilowatts of energy, enough to more than offset the building's expected energy use, according to LPL. Enough space was left in the campus' nearly two acres of open space to possibly add more fuel cells to be used with the future Tower 3, or as an addition to Tower 1, Twardowski said.

"We came up with this concept for the fuel cells and they've embraced it," Twardowski said of LPL.

Producing their energy from methane purchased from a sewage treatment plant, the fuel cells facilitate Tower 2's net-zero ability. But Twardowski said they are only part of a larger offering.

"The LPL building has under-floor air distribution," he said. "It's different from most buildings in that it's a raised floor."

There will be a foot of space underneath LPL workers' feet — that's where a bulk of the air conditioning has been place. The result is a more efficient setup that works with, not against, naturally rising heat.

The lack of ducting and individual work space temperature controls make for less wasted cool air, and high-efficiency glass on the building exterior cuts its heat load while LED lighting throughout the tower further cuts energy demand.

When it was announced months after the groundbreaking that the building was to achieve net-zero energy status, LPL Financial President and COO Robert Moore lauded his firm's decision to pursue with Hines such an advanced Class-A office space.

“Our involvement in the most ambitious net-zero office project to date in the U.S. is an indication of the strength of LPL Financial’s commitment to sustainability and will hopefully serve as an inspiration for the global financial industry to follow," Moore said in December 2012.

The sustainability concept plays into the trend of creative office spaces, Twardowski said. What largely began as a trend in the technology space has since expanded. What defines creative office space, he said, is still changing as legal and financial services firms begin looking to make more collaborative and sustainable uses of their offices.

"Real estate brokerage firms are really starting to advance the latest version of collaborative work spaces, and what that means and how to improve employee satisfaction and productivity," Twardowski said.

In the existing Tower 1 building on the campus, for instance, Cushman & Wakefield and Voit Real Estate — two brokerage firms — are both trying to "advance the science of collaborative work space" in different ways, Twardowski added, even though that building isn't as advanced as the soon-to-open Tower 2.

And in Orange County, Hines owns a warehouse building, devoid of any side windows and naturally lit only by skylights, that's occupied by a marketing firm. The firm, Twardowski said, uses a multilevel space, with not only lots of collaborative areas, but a "tree house-type" of conference room.

With sustainability efforts often comes a push for healthy work environments. Hines sees a new trend in the integration of interesting spaces in which people can work in a variety of environments, and where comfort is carefully considered.

In a place such as San Diego, finding ways to take advantage of the climate and an ability to integrate indoor and outdoor work spaces is getting attention from would-be tenants, Twardowski said. Individual work spaces are getting smaller, but tenants are looking to balance that with more common, shared spaces, he added.

"Designing for tomorrow's employee is a matter of understanding that the traditional high-wall cube isn't going to cut it anymore," Twardowski said, adding that interesting amenities are also being sought as the whole idea of sustainable and versatile work spaces continues to evolve.

La Jolla Commons offers its tenants a half basketball court, a bocce court, a putting green and outdoor seating. Class-A tenants are looking for outdoor space to be used, Twardowski said, where they could use tablet computers and scroll through emails. They're looking to sit under a tree, walk downstairs to get a coffee or be able to have a business lunch on the same campus, he added.
When the campus' Tower 3 is completed down the line, Hines looks to synthesize each of those perks, building off improvements made from Tower 1 to Tower 2.

"While our firm prides itself on leading the charge on a lot of the sustainability advancements in our business, we really do so where it makes financial sense, as well." Twardowski said. "Anybody can shell out a lot of money to get a green designation, but to do it and have it make financial sense, is a real tough thing."

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