A lot of people live and work in New York City. The latest census report indicates 8.5 million residents live in its five boroughs, already ahead of the city’s 2020 population forecast. Manhattan’s staggering 1.5 million residents astounds, and on an average weekday that number doubles to more than 3 million people when commuters entering the city start their workday.

Where do all these people go during the workday?

There are over 2,100 existing office building in Manhattan, and 6,600 within all five boroughs. Many of these buildings are old. According to research from CBRE, the average larger midtown commercial building is 57 years old; downtown is 63; midtown east is 70; and midtown south buildings’ average age is 92.

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Owners of aging buildings can find that it’s tough to compete with the shiny new commercial office towers popping up around the city. How do you affirm your market leadership and attract tenants in a building that was designed during the Eisenhower administration?

The “boom” must be bigger to be helpful

The New York Building Congress’ New York City Construction Outlook 2015-2017, reported the strongest level of office construction in a quarter century. But this boom only equates to roughly 20 million square feet of new office space added to the city by 2018 – a sharp contrast to the 450 million square feet available in existing buildings. New commercial construction reflects only a 1% increase each year ( which includes the anomaly of new commercial office space in the massive World Trade Center and Hudson Yards developments), while job growth in the private sector rose to 2.7% over the last year in NYC and is on an upswing.

The fact is new commercial office development isn’t coming fast enough, so our existing buildings must be part of the solution.

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How do we give old buildings new life?

First, by fixing the outdated infrastructure, which can be inefficient enough to turn off prospective tenants.  Study after study points to the inefficiencies of New York City’s existing infrastructure. Urban Green Council’s, “Spending through the Roof,” report highlights that the city loses approximately $11 million every year, and contributes 30,000 metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions due to inefficient, antiquated building vents that contribute to significant heat loss.

Old buildings don’t have to have ancient HVAC systems, ineffective insulation, oversized boilers, or leaky windows.

And with buildings accounting for nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the U.S., New York City is paying attention. Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s sustainability plan, “One City Built to Last,” is designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by nearly 3.4 million tons a year by 2025. That goal depends on existing buildings being modernized.

An Icon Gets Work Done

One of New York City’s most iconic buildings, the Empire State Building, is a towering example of what can be achieved with an energy retrofit to curb carbon emissions and save significantly on building costs. To revive the landmark building, owner Tony Malkin assembled a team to kick start a retrofit program. It was a business decision – one that saved 38% of the building energy resulting in $4.4 million saved annually; and will cut carbon emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years.

“With so many vintage buildings competing with new developments, retrofitting a building with the latest building technology and efficiency measures is a potent example of what’s possible from a design and sustainability perspective,” said Tom Paladino, CEO and Founder of Paladino and Company. “Companies that take these steps demonstrate their leadership through environmentally-aware, and business sound design.”

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Small Improvements Have Big Returns

Commercial tenants are also taking sustainable upgrades into their own hands. COOKFOX Architects is relocating to a 1920s era building in New York City. To align with their mission, they have aspirations for an office space that reflects high performance design and includes wellness features and energy and water efficiencies, backed by a LEED Platinum certification.

“Our working space must reflect the same vision we have for our clients,” said Bob Fox, partner at COOKFOX. “We consider how people interact with the space, and how that space interacts with the natural environment. We want our new office to reflect a sense of place and promote wellness. The building’s historic appeal and charm was attractive and aligns with our mission, rather than a newly constructed high rise.”

The 13,000 square foot office will accommodate 100 employees, and COOKFOX recognizes the value a sustainable approach will have on productivity, employee retention, talent attraction, and ultimately the bottom line.

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How is your building performing? Whether you are in New York or anywhere across the country, drop me a line and we’ll begin the conversation to make sure your buildings are performing the way they should, making your people happy, healthy and comfortable, and ultimately, saving you money.

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Rachel Hardesty Sowards, LEED AP O+M, is Executive Director, National Business Development at Paladino and Company.

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