Green hotel goes platinum
By Taft Wireback
News & Record, November 11, 2008
GREENSBORO - Now it's official: The Proximity Hotel is the American hospitality industry's most energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable building.
With solar-powered water heaters, concrete made from recycled fly ash and elevators that generate electricity as they descend, the Proximity and its owner, Dennis Quaintance, became the first in their industry Monday to win platinum status from the nation's arbiter of environmental and energy efficiency, the U.S. Green Building Council.
"They started this four years ago when basically nobody else in this industry was considering it at the level they were," said Marc Heisterkamp, who directs the nonprofit council's commercial real estate program. "It's a different world now than it was then."
The rest of the hotel industry "is still figuring it out. But we're standing in front of it," Heisterkamp said during the ceremony outside Proximity's Print Works Bistro.
The ceremony drew about 150 people, some of whom later toured the building and attended an afternoon symposium on green building at the hotel.
The building council verifies performance, then awards accolades for green projects ranging from silver to gold and, the highest, platinum.
Quaintance and his staff had known for some time they had qualified for the award.
But the council took time to review construction records and other aspects of the project before certifying its first-in-the-nation level of quality.
Quaintance clearly enjoyed taking the podium to outline some of his hotel's key innovations, how they came about and how much money they save.
For example, the elevators use electricity like any others going up, but they are linked to generators that make electricity on the way down.
"It's an urban legend, I believe, that it costs too much to employ green-building practices," said Quaintance, who with his wife, Nancy, also developed and operate the nearby O. Henry Hotel and Lucky 32 restaurant.
Solar panels atop the Proximity's roof use the sun to heat 60 percent of the hotel's water, helping the building cut utility costs by $140,000 a year.
Range hoods inside the Bistro kitchen use fans that run no faster than necessary to remove the amount of cooking heat present.
The system saves thousands of dollars yearly compared with exhaust fans that run only at full tilt, Quaintance said.
A pickup drove up in the middle of the ceremony carrying 500 pounds of coal, symbolizing the 500 tons that are not being burned to make additional electricity each year because of the Proximity's energy-efficient design.
Environmental consideration extended beyond the hotel to include restoration of an adjoining stream.
The hotel at 702 Green Valley Road opened last year. It is named after the now-demolished Proximity Cotton Mill, the first factory built in 1896 in the complex later known as Cone Mills.
In the midst of Monday's ceremony, the new hotel scored another coup.
Lynn Minges, state director of travel and tourism, announced that a picture of the Proximity will be on the front cover of the 2009 North Carolina Travel Guide.