Wandering aimlessly around the Central Library a few weeks ago, I saw this slogan on a construction fence for the new 5th and Madison development: “Condominiums with a Conscience.ā€¯ My first reaction, of course, was to snark. Environmentally friendly, LEED-silver certified condos for the very wealthy? Sounds like a marketing ploy to soothe the liberal consciences of those who consume the most.
But I had nothing else to do, so I rode the elevator up 25 floors to the 5th and Madison show room and now I’m sold on the whole green condo idea.
Since 2000, the City has required Seattle public buildings to be green (City Hall, aforementioned library), but in May our esteemed City Council passed the Downtown Livability Plan which forces big private downtown developers to go green as well. Thus the rise of the Conscience Condos — expensive, elite and eco-friendly condominiums where the building’s environmental qualities are marketed and appreciated as part of the overall sophisticated package. Forget composting toilets and peat-moss houses, between Denny Way and King St., even the exclusive and elegant can enjoy luxurious living with a clean, green conscience.
Here’s the mock-up of 5th and Madison from where the library is now (so looking west from Madison, with 5th avenue to your left). All 24 stories of glass are insulated for energy efficiency.
And from 5th Avenue you can see their plaza, which counts as green space.
Buyers even get to customize their condos with earth-themed color motifs — storm, dawn, etc…
There’s six residences per floor and most are priced between $500,000 - $700,000, with higher ones going for up to $900,000.
So yeah, yeah, yeah, some of you may deride the people who buy 5th and Madison condos (or those at the also LEED-silver certified 1521 2nd Ave development, whose website opens with the phrase “Designed exclusively for the confident fewā€¯) as yuppies trying to buy their way into environmentalism, but is there anything really wrong with that? Having people willing to shell out a little extra for some eco-friendly refinements is what makes green building attractive and viable.
“Initially, when this happens, you need the right people, the right politics and the right place,ā€¯ explains Tony Gale, who was on Nickel’s green building team and is now the corporate architect for Starbucks. “There needs to be a mindset that can allow it to happen, a real world-view in the general populace, a ground-swell in interest from the general public.ā€¯
Even if the condo builders and buyers are motivated (like Gale) by a well-intentioned desire for a cleaner world, their decisions are founded on good financial sense. The 5th and Madison brochure makes sure to mention that green condos have a higher resale value than standard gas-grubbing homes and in Seattle, flush with money and liberalism, there is a definite and growing market for conscience condos.
“Five years ago, people wouldn’t have noticed, really, if it was green building,ā€¯ says 5th and Madison public relations manager Pam Perry, “The market’s on a tipping point.” According to Perry, the buyers are people in 30s, 40s and 50s, a lot of single men who “urban-oriented people comfortable with living downtown, a little more sophisticated.ā€¯ She explains:
That’s the whole shift in green, people think it’s yurt-like living, but of course the new green doesn’t look like that at all. You can’t really look at that building and go, “Oh, that’s a green building,ā€¯ The green part is all in the innards. A lot of people don’t necessarily walk in and go, “I’m buying because it’s green.ā€¯ It’s a bonus, they know their energy bills will be less.
So are green condos going to spread to all of Seattle or stay only downtown where they’re mandated? It’ll have a lot to do with how successful 5th and Madison turns out to be.
“You better be careful what you propose in the private sector,ā€¯ says Gale, “it better work.ā€¯