A LEEDer in New Jerseys green-office movement

//September 24, 2009//

A LEEDer in New Jerseys green-office movement

//September 24, 2009//

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But ‘valuable’ certification dampened by commercial real estate slumpFour years ago, he opened his firm’s New Jersey office, expanding the operation into one of the most prominent in the Garden State. Now, in the face of a downturn, a top real estate player is looking to sharpen his firm’s competitive edge in the state with a focus on sustainability services.

In late June, Jonathan Meisel, New Jersey markets director of commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, became a LEED-accredited professional under the U.S. Green Building Council, a designation that indicates expertise in green building practices. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national green building rating system that establishes criteria for the design, construction and operation of sustainable properties.

A 22-year real estate veteran, Meisel — one of the top industry executives in the state to earn the accreditation — joined JLL in 2004, and opened the firm’s first New Jersey office in 2005, in Parsippany. The initial four-person operation has since grown into one of the largest in the state, with an office staff of 125 in three New Jersey locations that also include the Iselin section of Woodbridge and Hasbrouck Heights, as well as 300 on-site property and project managers throughout the state.

Meisel’s accreditation is part of a worldwide initiative JLL began three years ago to substantially increase the number of the firm’s employees with sustainability accreditation. The firm now has more than 500 employees across the globe who have earned such a distinction — including 16 in the Garden State.

“It’s not a recent fad for us,” said Meisel, 47. JLL served as consultants to New York’s Bank of America Tower — which is scheduled for completion in early 2010 and has applied for LEED Platinum certification — and is working on bringing the Empire State Building up to LEED standards.

“To be a practitioner of LEED has been pretty valuable,” he said, crediting JLL’s LEED credentials in beating out several other brokerage companies in June to represent Wells Real Estate Funds’ 80 Park Plaza, the 1 million-square-foot Public Service & Electric Gas Co. headquarters building, in Newark. JLL is performing an analysis to determine how to get the property LEED certified.

“Having our sustainable group put us a leg up and helped us win business,” he said. JLL also is working on behalf of landlord TIAA-CREF to get the Morris Corporate Center III’s Building D — where the brokerage’s Parsippany office is located — to meet Energy Star standards.

Meisel — who took online courses over a two-month period to prepare for the exam — is the second of two JLL brokers in New Jersey to receive LEED-accredited professional status; the other 14 with the designation are project and property managers who advise landlords on constructing or renovating buildings to LEED standards, or implementing environmentally friendly practices.

“Corporations are trying to reduce their carbon footprint,” he said, noting that sustainable features rank fourth or fifth on the list of criteria a tenant considers in a building, after location, amenities and quality of space. “If a tenant looking for space has a choice between two buildings, and one is more sustainable than the other, I believe they’ll gravitate to the more sustainable building.”

But besides the Wells and TIAA-CREF buildings, JLL has few assignments in New Jersey where it is providing LEED or sustainable services.

Part of the reason is that sustainable buildings are a relatively recent phenomenon, Meisel said. Of the 1,700 speculative office buildings that are more than 30,000 square feet in New Jersey, none are LEED certified, and about 25 are Energy Star labeled, he said. An Energy Star facility meets strict energy performance standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

And demand for LEED services has tapered off in the down economy. “With the lack of activity in the market and vacancy rates where they are, landlords don’t have a lot of money to spend” on sustainable upgrades, he said. Expenses include project registration fees to the USGBC of $450 to $600, and review fees from $1,250 to $22,500, depending on the size and type of project.

Despite the fact that “typical real estate leasing transactions are off” by a considerable amount, Meisel sees some bright spots. Corporations have increasingly handed off the management of facilities to third-party providers like JLL, he said: “Having companies offload or farm out some of these other needs to corporations like us is where we’re growing our business.”

JLL’s property management group in New Jersey has grown by 70 percent in the past year, and the firm expects to increase the division further as it aims to expand into industrial property management, Meisel said. Also targeted for growth in the future is the company’s capital markets division, which was established last year.

“We are still looking to grow organically, and we’re still taking on folks” — including two new brokers who were hired last month, he said. Although transactions are down, new brokers can still help to sell other services offered by the company, he said.

“We’re still building a business,” Meisel said. “All the service lines have helped us get other business.”

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