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Downtown Summerlin lands silver level LEED certification

It’s Earth Day. Do you know where your closest ecofriendly shopping center is?

Days ahead of Friday’s celebration of all things environmentally conscious, Nevada’s green-building landscape made big strides.

The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded Downtown Summerlin’s 1.4 million-square-foot shopping, dining and entertainment district certification through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Downtown Summerlin earned a silver level, the third-best ranking the council grants.

Summerlin officials say the district is the largest center of its kind in the nation to land LEED status, though the project isn’t even close to ranking as Nevada’s largest certified building. That honor goes to CityCenter, a gold-status megaresort with 18 million square feet under roof.

But Downtown Summerlin is big enough to move Nevada into the top five states for LEED-certified square feet per capita. The U.S. Green Building Council counted 2.42 square feet of completed LEED projects per Nevadan in 2015, for a No. 6 rank. Downtown Summerlin pushes the figure to 2.83 square feet, good enough for No. 4. The only states with higher shares of square footage per resident are Massachusetts at 3.03 square feet, Maryland at 3.06 square feet and Illinois at 3.43 square feet.

Downtown Summerlin’s accomplishment is an important image boost for a city with an unfair rap for environmental insensitivity, green building experts said. That’s a key reputation to turn around: It can affect economic diversification, as businesses and new residents think twice about moving to a place that they believe might endure environmentally.

“It shows that we’re a leader in sustainability, which is not a logical conclusion that most people make,” said Rick Van Diepen, principal in Las Vegas consulting firm Greenview Global. “There’s this misperception that Las Vegas is just a wasteland that’s all about consumption and avarice, and we don’t build responsibly or use water responsibly. Green buildings help open people’s eyes.”

Downtown Summerlin’s new status could also boost a green-building sector that surged from 2006 to 2009, but has languished in the city’s economic recovery, Van Diepen said.

“The recession set things back,” he said. “As the industry is just now getting back on its feet, some builders are tentative about spending extra dollars on green building. We’re fighting that attitude in the near term.”

At Downtown Summerlin, the goal was always to spend extra on green building.

When then-owner General Growth Properties drew up plans for the center in 2007, LEED status was on the list of demands, said Tom Warden, vice president of community and government relations for current owner The Howard Hughes Corp.

“Stewardship has been an important part of our brand from the beginning,” said Warden, pointing to Summerlin’s 1988 land deal to swap 5,000 acres at Red Rock Canyon’s border for other land to the master plan’s south. “We’ve always been a conscientious developer.”

LEED certification will also help Downtown Summerlin’s bottom line: Standards require measures that cut power consumption by 24.5 percent compared with traditional construction methods, plus landscaping that slashes water use by 40 percent over what’s typical.

“If you’re going to operate a building, you’re going to see significant savings in a LEED building,” Warden said. “It saves on energy costs, and it creates very comfortable environments.”

Then there’s the intangible benefit of spreading the word about ecofriendly building. The Howard Hughes Corp. plans to add explanatory plaques highlighting some of Downtown Summerlin’s green practices.

“Environmental issues resonate with families so much more now than they used to,” Warden said. “We think it’s a great teaching tool.”

Contact Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Find @_JRobison on Twitter.

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