AMA Plaza

Last year, AMA Plaza’s office tower turned 12 of its 52 stories into hotel space – and managed to earn the second IREM Certified Sustainable Property certification in the country. Photo: Riverview Realty Partners

Until 2013, AMA Plaza existed as a 52-story multi-tenant office building. It was LEED certified, had completed BOMA’s 7-Point Challenge, and earned the ENERGY STAR label. After experiencing significant vacancy rates, however, the building’s owner – 330 North Wabash Avenue LLC, a joint venture between Riverview Realty Partners (formerly Prime Group Realty LP) and Five Mile Capital partners – sold 12 floors of the 52-story building to Langham Hotels International.

What once was an office tower now dedicates floors 2 through 13 to hotel rooms. Susan Hammer, general manager at Riverview Realty Partners, says the building’s property management team was already focused on indoor air quality, green cleaning, recycling, and several other standard sustainable practices that could carry over to the hotel. “We had to integrate hotel operations into the already-existing office building operation, which set off a lot of the mechanical retrofits,” explains Hammer. “Along with integrating the two different building uses, a lot of capital was put in to the building to make it more energy-efficient as well.”

Big Changes, Even Bigger Impact
With three fan systems in the building, as well as a small interstitial space fan system that took care of some low-rise floors, the hotel had to be separated and placed on its own fan system. The remaining office floors were integrated into the existing fan system.

[pullquote]We have compost areas in our kitchens and conference rooms so we can divert waste from those areas. It’s collected by the building staff and taken to a compost yard; it really creates a no-waste system.
Jeff Sanner, project architect for Perkins + Will
[/pullquote] “Hammer and her team worked on several initiatives to improve energy efficiency, meet code requirements for separating hotel and office spaces, and improving indoor air quality and comfort levels:

  • Retrofitted interior air handlers and the hydraulic pumping system, and installed variable frequency drives
  • Upgraded air handlers with new outside air dampers for greater ventilation control and better IAQ
  • Rebalanced systems after removing the hotel’s 12 floors from the system
  • Upgraded from a constant air volume system to a variable air volume system
  • Replaced the constant speed chilled water pumps with variable speed pumps to reduce cooling load
  • Upgraded and enhanced automation to provide individual system control
  • Replaced electrical steam heat with natural gas boilers
  • Retrofitted lighting systems, adding LEDs in common areas and parking garages
  • Installing sensors and a daylight harvesting system in the lobby area

Hammer says several office floors are still on constant air volume systems because they were occupied during the retrofit. “We had to make sure both of those systems worked together: the constant-speed, higher-pressure systems and the variable-speed, medium-pressure system,” she emphasizes.

AMA Plaza also became one of three pilot buildings involved with BOMA Chicago Energy Center’s smart grid initiative. The tower’s eight main electrical meters were replaced with smart meters that relay energy consumption data for the entire building in near real-time. Sub-meters are also installed on equipment pumps and fans so that property management can monitor individual equipment for usage anomalies, potential maintenance issues, or malfunction.

These usage monitoring tools work in conjunction with enhanced external infrastructure to capture and relay usage data to the utility and building engineers. The tools send data to the electrical server at two-second intervals, allowing monitoring by area and time of day. As a result, system adjustments can be made on the fly as needed.

The smart meters also make it possible for AMA Plaza to participate in the utility’s demand response program, receiving financial incentives for reducing their energy consumption when requested.

The building also implemented commercial tenant composting – a first for Chicago – and diverted 20.6 tons of organic material from the landfill during the program’s first six months. More than 40,000 worms work to also compost food waste from the cafeteria. The worm compost is then used in exterior landscaping.

“There’s a lot of trash generated with hotels,” explains Hammer. “We’re working with them to increase their composting rates. The office component does very well, but the hotel portion of the building isn’t there yet.”

Composting offers a welcome opportunity for tenants like Perkins + Will to get involved in the building’s green initiatives. A Perkins + Will architect is responsible for the composting occurring on their two floors; he also works with property management to make sure the process runs smoothly.

“We have compost areas in our kitchens and conference rooms so we can divert waste from those areas,” explains Jeff Sanner, project architect for Perkins + Will. “It’s collected by the building staff and taken to a compost yard; it really creates a no-waste system.”

As a result of these various sustainability initiatives, Riverview Realty Partners has saved AMA Plaza more than 7.5 million kilowatt hours a year, says Hammer. “We also went from about 40% occupied to 95% occupied,” she explains. “We believe that increase is based on a lot of these system upgrades.” Despite the building’s progress, she says the team’s plan is to continue to find ways to increase energy and water savings, with a goal of reducing the building’s energy usage by 30% from a 2012 baseline.


Originally known as IBM Plaza, AMA Plaza was completed in 1970 and was the last skyscraper that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed. As a historical structure, the exterior and lower levels could not be altered significantly, however, the architect was able to create double height ceilings throughout the main public spaces to allow the cityscape to become part of the interior architecture. Photo: Langham Hospitality Group

The Right Way to Communicate
Turning a high-rise office tower into a mixed-use facility requires more than just system upgrades … it also involves diligent, ongoing communication with existing tenants, new tenants, and the building staff.

With crews moving in and out of the building every day, there are bound to be disruptions to tenants – along with operational issues that affect the entire building. “We had to communicate with everyone constantly,” Hammer explains. “Not only did we have hotel construction for 18 months, but we also had our own base building reconstruction going on, along with more than 700,000 square feet of new tenant space being constructed. It was extremely critical that we all communicated with each other.”

Hammer and her team relied on a variety of tactics to keep everyone in-the-know:
Social media

  • E-mail announcements and regular newsletters
  • Digital media screens
  • Daily and weekly tenant meetings

“Riverview Realty Partners explained the green building measures being implemented, and the tenants all participated in surveys to measure satisfaction, comfort levels, and commuter habits,” says Sanner. “The communication is very much back and forth: not only what the tenant can do for the building, but what the building can do for us.”

Tenant education is an important part of the communication process for Riverview Realty Partners. They offer green roof tours to any tenants who want to see the roof and learn more about it from the designer. “That’s a building feature they wouldn’t normally get to see, because it’s on the 52nd floor,” says Hammer. “The plantings are made to withstand the harsh conditions, including our Chicago winters. We have birds, grasshoppers, and all kinds of things up there – it’s its own small ecosystem, and this allows tenants the chance to see it up close.”

To add some excitement (and a little friendly competition), AMA Plaza participates in the City of Chicago’s Green Office Challenge as well. “We encourage everyone to get involved; the program offers ideas for saving energy, and also provides recognition for success,” emphasizes Hammer. “I really think competition helps drive results.”

Hammer also helps make sure that green building initiatives are communicated to hotel staff and guests. “The hotel’s guests call and ask employees if it’s a green hotel,” says Hammer. “That’s becoming more of an important question.”

Green Building Recognition
For AMA Plaza, part of being a green building means having certifications to back their efforts. The building has earned the USGBC’s LEED-EB O&M Silver certification (and is currently working toward Gold), as well as the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR label, the BOMA 7-Point Challenge, and the 2014 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award. Two AMA Plaza tenants – Perkins + Will and Thornton Tomasetti – have also earned LEED-CI certification for their office spaces.

In multi-tenant space, infrastructure and MEP systems are often beyond the tenant’s control. “If you can find a building that has robust systems like these in place, it makes it so much easier to make your own high-performance spaces more meaningful as a tenant,” says Sanner. “Sustainability is a big part of our practice. We designed our own space to be LEED-CI Platinum. When you’re designing a space, it’s so beneficial to be able to plug in to a building that has sustainable infrastructure already developed.”

Being close to public transportation and having access to showers, locker rooms, and safe places to park bicycles also makes Perkins + Will’s job of designing a high-performance workspace that much easier, Sanner says.

AMA Plaza

Riverview Realty Partners was able to fast-track the IREM Certified Sustainable Property process because AMA Plaza was already LEED-certified, had completed BOMA’s 7-Point Challenge, and earned the ENERGY STAR label. The property is one of three pilot buildings involved with BOMA Chicago Energy Center’s smart grid initiative.Photo: Riverview Realty Partners

Staying Ahead of the Curve
A new green building certification has been added to AMA Plaza’s growing arsenal: IREM’s Certified Sustainable Property certification. In May 2014, the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) launched its Certified Sustainable Property program after recognizing a need for certification that’s based on benchmarking and sustainability policies and procedures.

“Buildings deserve a chance to earn recognition for programs they already have in place or actions they’re already doing,” says Todd Feist, IREM’s sustainability program manager. “But there just simply wasn’t a program for them. The Certified Sustainable Property certification can be a complement to LEED-certified buildings; it’s also good for class B & C office buildings that may not have LEED certification, as well as any other property that wants recognition for their sustainability efforts.”

Riverview Realty Partners was able to fast-track the IREM Certified Sustainable Property process because AMA Plaza was already LEED-certified. The new program is based on 24 core sustainability activities. Completion of 12 of the 24 actions are required; the remaining 12 actions are elective (eight of the 12 activities can be selected for completion).

AMA Plaza is the second building in the United States to earn this certification (the first was the 49-story Energy Plaza in Dallas).

“Part of the reason we pursued IREM’s Certified Sustainable Property even though we have other green building certifications is because it shows the stakeholders in the building – whether it’s the owner, tenants, or even the service providers or contractors – that we are continuously developing our sustainability profile,” Hammer explains. “The industry and technology are changing so quickly, and you have to keep up. We’re not staying stagnant. This certification is just another step toward showing the marketplace that we’re keeping pace. It’s a competitive environment, and marketing is really important.”

The Certified Sustainable Property program’s re-certification process will involve a three-year cycle. “For re-certification, we’ll emphasize demonstrated performance,” describes Feist. With new benchmarking regulations being announced throughout the country, it’s no longer a choice – it’s becoming a mandate. IREM’s program is a way to demonstrate the transparency required by these new benchmarking laws, as well as a way to move toward compliance if mandates haven’t hit your city yet.

“Portfolio-level sustainability is the next big thing,” says Feist, “and the program is an opportunity for a real estate company to get an entire portfolio through certification to demonstrate commitment to portfolio-level sustainability.”

Leah Grout Garris

Leah Garris An award winning editor, Leah spent over eight years in senior editorial positions at both BUILDINGS magazine and ARCHI-TECH magazine. Her work has been incorporated into training and educational programs around the country. She is a graduate of University of Iowa. She is Editor at Large for High Rise Facilities.