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GOING FOR THE GOLD: Inside Zappos' energy efficiency effort

Last year, Zappos completed an $34 million deal to move its 1,400 employees from Henderson to the former city hall in downtown. The city government had been crowded into the architecturally distinctive, coffee-cup-shaped structure and central tower on Stewart Avenue for 40 years.

The purchase was only a first step for Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s rehabilitation of the structure. Construction work has been going on nonstop since December. Zappos formally opened the refurbished building Sept. 9.

One of the primary goals of the refurbishing is to make the building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Certified Gold, which means that the building will meet the second-highest ranking for energy efficiency established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

According to the Review-Journal, refurbishing costs totaled $60 million.

Brad Tomm, Zappos senior manager of campus operations and sustainability, previously worked as sustainability director at MGM, overseeing those efforts on 18 million square feet of the resort giant's Strip properties. Several weeks ago, he gave CityLife a hard-hat tour of the building under reconstruction, the better for us to answer your questions:


When will the building be completed?

Zappos employees moved in Sept. 9. There will be a phased, 40-day opening of the campus.


When will it received the LEED Gold Certification?

The review is ongoing but is expected by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2014.


How large is the old city hall?

About 290,000 square feet.

What work will Zappos' 1,400 employees being doing at the center?

Zappos “customer service loyalty representatives” will essentially work at the call center. The actual products are mailed from a facility in Kentucky. There will be about 120 customer representatives per floor.


How much does it cost to make a decades-old building energy efficient?

Tomm declined to cite the specific cost. “The premiums would be paid off so quickly that it would be a no-brainer.”


Beyond the financial benefits, why is Zappos making the investment?

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s a good fit for Zappos culture. Many of our peers downtown have also pursued LEED certification. LEED is pretty much the bar — now, it’s almost expected for companies in a leadership position.”


What are some of the steps that the contractors took to upgrade energy efficiency on a 40-year-old building?

Upgrading an older building required a thorough revamp of the heating and cooling system. Many passive systems were used; for example, the reflectivity of the roofs was improved to radiate more summer heat away from the building. Natural light is used whenever possible. Although employees have their own work spaces, high employee density means greater energy efficiency — heating and cooling are not wasted on large, empty spaces.


One of the most memorable elements of the old city hall was the dark mahogany-colored city hall chambers, where decades of Las Vegas’ leaders met. What will happen to it?

The chambers is being kept mostly as it is and will be used for large group meetings.


What about other parts of the building?

Some elements, such as the doors to the mayor’s offices, are being reused and sometimes repurposed. About 200 doors are being saved. Unneeded architectural elements, such as hundreds of door handles, rock veneer and piles and piles of other reusable material, are going to Habitat for Humanity.


Energy efficiency, we now know, also means water conservation. What can a 40-year-old building do to save water?

Low-flow water fixtures are being installed throughout, providing a 45 percent savings in water use.


Recently, the City Council reversed a building code that would require refurbishment efforts on buildings built before 2009 to meet energy efficiency standards. Did this affect the project?

No. Achieving LEED Gold Certification would put this effort above the former city standards.


How will Zappos employees get to work?

They’ll drive their cars, take the bus and bike. There will be 100 bike racks, electric car charging stations are already installed in the parking garage on the south side of Stewart, and for those who bike or run to work, there will be full-service locker rooms. Tony Hsieh lives just a couple of blocks from the former city hall, so he’ll just have a short walk.

Doesn’t all the work on energy efficiency mean a spartan working environment?

No. A 12,000-square-foot restaurant will provide meals to the employees. There is a yoga room, a full-service gym, ping-pong tables, another bistro and rooftop patio on the 10th floor. Outside, workmen are building a low-water use garden, path and tables for workers to enjoy. Just across Fourth Street, employees will have easy access to the Downtown Transportation Center and the twice-weekly farmers market.


How will the refurbished city hall compare to other buildings of similar size?

The new building will be at least 25 percent more energy efficient than similar buildings.