A Green Vision for Baltimore

One of the first things a traveler sees off I-95 upon entering Baltimore (after the huge Resco garbage incinerator) is the behemoth, art deco Montgomery Park building. This 1925 cement warehouse with large windows was Baltimore’s most visible white elephant among the clover leafs and overpasses for two decades. This one-time Montgomery Ward distribution center stood vacant for 15 years and was a symbol of the wasted potential in Baltimore’s rotting industrial district.

Is Baltimore on track to become a showcase for green building and design?© Photos To Go

Today, the 1.3 million-square-foot structure is not only the city’s largest office building, but it also serves as the area’s most extensive use of green design and technology. Although the changes are invisible from the outside, the $70 million Montgomery Park complex utilizes a diverse environmental preservation strategy in an area surrounded by industrial brownfield sites. Montgomery Park won the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phoenix Award in 2003, recognizing environmentally compromised properties that have been returned to productive use.

From the 20,000 square-foot green roof to the energy-saving, photo-sensor-controlled lighting system, Montgomery Park serves as a model for how green technology can work seamlessly for the business community.

Four years ago, when Montgomery opened, green design was considered on the fringe of the development industry. Today, the Baltimore area is poised to embrace sustainable construction, according to some observers.

“Baltimore is an opportunity waiting to happen,” says Billy Hwang, a legislative aid to City Councilman Jim Kraft, who established sustainable building guidelines last spring through the Baltimore City Green Building Task Force.

But while Kraft and supporters push for tax incentives and a new office of sustainability to aid builders, a demand for green development is emerging naturally in the Baltimore market. Montgomery Park came about because the Department of Environment was looking for a new green home. “It was important to lead by example,” says Charles Gates, a Maryland Department of the Environment spokesperson. The department was drawn to Montgomery Park because it was a renovated brownfield site that made creative re-use of polluted stormwater, which has devastated the Chesapeake Bay.

“I think the message of [Montgomery Park] is the power of the tenant,” says David Pratt, president of the Baltimore Regional Chapter U.S. Green Building Council. He believes that altruistic intentions alone aren’t enough to bring sustainable building practice into the mainstream. Builders, he said, must see a practical, financial benefit. “You end up with a higher-quality building,” says Pratt. “I think it’s where the market is going.”

In fact, Sam Himmelrich, Jr. of Himmelrich Associates, the developer of Montgomery Park, never labeled himself green, although he had a reputation for restoring old warehouses and recycling construction waste. “We figured out how to implement green practices, which gave us good value,” he says.

Specific features include: a green roof planted with alpine vegetation that reduces storm runoff by 50 to 70 percent; a cistern system that funnels rainwater to flush the toilets; a rooftop ice storage system that complements the air conditioning; and construction waste that has been recycled into the renovation (most notably the Glassfault, in which ground-up glass windows sparkle in the macadam on the parking lots). Its owners say that Montgomery Park uses half the energy of a conventionally built office building.

Champions of sustainability see fertile ground for Baltimore. The city task force has done some preliminary planning for a stretch of ignored waterfront along Middle Branch, which could easily emerge as Baltimore’s “Other Inner Harbor.”