While it might seem like Capitol Hill is immune to the Great Recession with areas like Pike/Pine filling to the brim with stores, restaurants and bars, the healthiest spaces on the Hill seem to also be the most unique while the most common are more likely to sit vacant. It seems that landowners have to offer up something truly special in order to sign interested tenants. That is the strategy of developer Bruno Lambert with his plans for an eco-friendly, historic rehab, right across the street from Liz Dunn’s recently completed Melrose Market.
Lambert’s Melrose Square, calls for a full renovation of the 1928 automotive garage at 1510 Melrose Ave, into what Lambert refers to as “a bit of a green lab.” He hopes to minimize the building’s carbon footprint by using a diverse range of sustainable technology features, including solar panels and urban wind turbines as well as a green roof that produces fruits and vegetables. Since being green also means mixing uses, the building will include ground floor retail topped by 2,800 square feet of office space and an 1,800 square foot residential unit.
Yet for all of its ambitious green plans, Lambert says it has been a struggle meeting the city’s energy code. The problem stems from the fact that older buildings are inherently less efficient and bringing them up to code without sacrificing their historic charm can be a serious challenge. For example, the building’s classic red brick walls are incredibly inefficient and code requires that they be further insulated by covering the interior walls with an additional layer. Luckily, while the north wall will require this addition, Lambert was able to convince the city that since the east and south walls touch other buildings, the heat isn’t lost but transferred to the adjacent spaces. Similarly, the characteristic industrial windows on the second story can only be kept because they will be backed by an additional pane of glass in order to conserve heat. “If my goal was to make money,” Lambert admits, “I would just tear the whole thing down. You really have to be a believer.”
Along with being a silent partner on a number of development projects, Lambert is a serious investor in clean energy start-ups. He took on this project as a way to meld his interests in development and clean energy and really explore the possibilities for creating great buildings. The process has helped him learn about, and advocate for, a better approach to the city’s energy code which he believes should be more accommodating for creative property owners. He points out that the current system doesn’t take into account the vital role that older buildings play in neighborhood identity and suggests that developers should have the flexibility to preserve these buildings’ less efficient features if they are willing to utilize other green features such as clean energy technologies.
Lambert, who purchased the property in 2008 from the same land owner as the Melrose Market buildings, doesn’t yet have a scheduled construction date for the renovation. He has lined up all the necessary permits but is looking to secure a tenant first who can provide the much needed assurance to acquire capital. He is hopeful though; with the Melrose Market filling up fast and the recent announcement of a new Maclise/Wiemann establishment setting up shop across the street, he is confident that he can find a perfect fit for the unique space. And once he does, Melrose Ave may be the new heavy-weight amongst Capitol Hill’s contenders for the ultimate urban experience.