The Green Exchange Comes to Life

By Matt Baker

As spring arrives and the region shows signs of life renewed, new vigor is coming to the Green Exchange as well. Imagined as a microcosm of sustainable businesses, the Green Exchange made much fanfare five years ago with the announcement of plans to refurbish the former Cooper Lighting factory in Logan Square into a localized venue for purveyors of green products and services. And then the floor fell out of the economy.

“All the lenders that were chasing me around, all the sudden you couldn’t find them because there was no such thing as a construction loan for me or anyone else,” said David Baum who co-owns Baum Development, the firm behind the Green Exchange. “It was never an issue of demand, it was an issue of being in balance,” said Baum. “We had tenants that were signed up, but we couldn’t deliver the space. It took me close to two years to get the financing back in place.”

Now, the Green Exchange is at 86% capacity with tenants such as Coyote Logistics, Green Choice Bank, Distant Village Packaging, 2 Point Perspective and more.Ground broke for the building that houses the Green Exchange 99 years ago. Constructed for the Vassar Swiss Underwear Company, the company would put an addition on in 1924 and sell the building in 1967 to the Cooper Lamp Company. Cooper moved out in 2005, but it wasn’t long before activity started up at the four story, 272,000 square foot building.Even the artwork in the Green Exchange is made from reclaimed materials, such as the 1,500 washers over the escalator.”

Barry Bursak, a green consultant in Chicago, went to then 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores with an idea for a vertically-integrated, green building that would house sustainable businesses. Bursak wanted specifically to avoid developers who were gentrifying the neighborhoods they worked in. Flores put him in touch with Baum Development, who had just received recognition for bringing a landmark building in Motor Row back to life after four decades of vacancy.

“We liked the idea and we worked with him on it but we were not so vertically integrated, although we are symbiotic,” said Baum. The original plans changed over time to fit the market and the property that would become the Green Exchange.

Manufacturing had changed over the years since Vassar and Cooper left, and the building’s one dock and old school, multi-column interior don’t lend well to modern industry. The plan instead evolved into a building with offices and showrooms where environmentally-responsible businesses could cooperate at one epicenter of green commerce.

Most of what led to the building’s LEED Platinum status was what wasn’t done; Baum aimed to retain 95% of the building structure during rehabilitation. “The greenest thing about this building is the fact that we didn’t tear it down,” he said, noting that 4/5 of the energy needed to erect a building like this one goes into the core and shell.

Baum Development operates on a triple bottom line premise, so nearly every new thing that did go into renovating the building was sustainable. All paints and stains are low-VOC and high efficiency filters and air quality sensors monitor the indoor air quality on every floor.

Ninety solar thermal panels help to tame the building’s domestic hot water demand. A 10-ton water absorption chiller will aid with a portion of the Green Exchange’s cooling load. High efficiency heating and cooling systems elsewhere in the building reduce energy use by 22%.

Even the artwork in the Green Exchange is made from reclaimed materials, such as the 1,500 washers over the escalator.

An escalator serving the first and second floors is equipped with sensors that modulates its speed depending on the number of riders and even slow to a crawl when there are no passengers. This adjustment results in a drop in energy demand of roughly 30%.

The building’s open, loft design and large, energy-efficient windows mean that every space is well supplied with daylight. Nowhere is this more apparent than the second story “sky garden,” and 8,000 square foot indoor garden and meeting space.

There are plenty of plants elsewhere, such as the 13,000 square foot vegetated roof which features a variety of low-moisture perennials and even an organic vegetable garden. An apiary will also be installed on the roof as spring settles in. Irrigation of both the green roof and sky garden is aided by a 41,000+ gallon rain cistern.

“Not that we are the epitome of what is sustainable, because there’s always something better and it’s an evolving thing,” said Baum. “But we tried to do as best we could in every single space that was available to us.”

As Baum says, the Green Exchange is an evolving thing. For example, the building is not situated in a heavy public transit corridor and in fact overlooks the Kennedy Expressway. But there are plans to install car charging stations and to bring the I-Go car sharing service to the site.

Baum couldn’t elaborate, but the Green Exchange will soon be home to a new restaurant. Designed to be fully integrated into the property, the restaurant will take in honey from the apiary and eggs from a couple of recently acquired chickens. Food waste from the restaurant will be composted and, along with the chicken manure, used to fertilize the green roof.

Baum Development is in the process of looking at other projects to take on as well. Whatever they decide to do next, Baum assures that their triple bottom line approach will not change. “It’s likely to be adaptive reuse, it’s likely to be something that will be highly beneficial to whatever community were building in, and it’s imperative that we build it in a sustainable fashion. That’s just what we do.”

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