A New Orleans skyscraper that once stood as a symbol of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation is now being praised as an example of the city’s future. The newly renovated Benson Tower, the 26-story office building adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was recently recognized as the first high-rise in New Orleans to earn certification through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the top rating system for “green” building.
The Poydras Street building was formerly known as the Dominion Tower, and it was left battered and mostly vacant for years after Katrina. In 2009, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his family bought the property as part of an agreement between the Saints and the state.
“I give the Benson family a lot of credit,” says Mike Siegel, president of Corporate Realty, Inc., the New Orleans firm that manages Benson Tower leasing. “They could have built (the tower) back the way it had been, keeping the old systems in place. But it was important for them to do it this way.
They wanted to make a statement and to be leaders, and you need people with that foresight and that vision.”
The LEED certification recognizes high performance in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Building manager Maureen Clary says for Benson Tower that included new high-efficiency lighting and mechanical systems and everything from carpets and paints with low VOC emissions to a building-wide recycling program.
“The utility costs of operating this building are about half what they would be for another non-LEED building downtown here,” she says.
The building is almost 100 percent leased, but Siegel says LEED certification would be an important selling point should the building need new tenants in the future.
“But my opinion is that five or 10 years down the line it won’t be very meaningful because everyone will have it, it will just be the standard,” says Siegel. “It’s the way the world is headed.”
Indeed, over the summer the U.S. Green Building Council, the agency that manages the LEED program, reported that more than 2 billion square feet of commercial projects are now certified through LEED and that an additional 7 billion square feet is currently in the pipeline worldwide.