Officials celebrate Battery Park City ‘green’ building


By Elizabeth O’Brien

Battery Park City got a little greener last Friday with the official dedication of the Solaire, a 27-story building that is being touted as the country’s first environmentally sustainable residential high-rise building.

Governor George Pataki unveiled the building’s cornerstone at a noontime ceremony also attended by Tim Carey, the president and C.E.O. of the Battery Park City Authority, and officials from the Albanese Organization, the building’s developer. Pataki later hailed the Solaire as a “symbol of how Lower Manhattan is coming back.”

Tenants first started moving into the luxury high-rise over the July 4 weekend. Some, still concerned about post-9/11 air quality Downtown, were mainly drawn by features such as the building’s filtered air supply. Others, like Louise Matthews, couldn’t pass up the Solaire’s spectacular river views.

Matthews said she was nonetheless getting into the green spirit of the building, picking out “eco-friendly paints” with her 4-year-old daughter a few weeks before they are scheduled to move from 450 North End Ave., which is also in Battery Park City.

“I’m curious to see if green features—as far as reduced utilities—actually work,” Matthews said.

The building has about 450 solar panels on the side and roof, helping it to consume 35 percent less energy than most buildings, according to the developer. Tenants will receive a reduced electric bill from management, not from a provider like Con Edison, a leasing agent said.

Other environmentally friendly features of the Solaire include an air-conditioning system fueled by natural gas, an on-site water treatment system to supply water for the toilets and to cool the HVAC tower, and a storm water collection system to irrigate the rooftop garden. Even the cherry wood cabinets in the kitchens come from recycled growth forests.

This kind of attention to detail doesn’t come cheap. Rents at the Solaire range from $2,500 a month for a studio to $7,000 a month for a 1,627 sq. ft. three-bedroom apartment with a terrace. The building has 293 apartments, with 15 studios, about 54 three-bedroom units, and the rest one and two-bedroom apartments. The building is currently 80 percent leased and 60 percent occupied.

Albanese received $100 million in Liberty Bond financing from the state to build the Solaire. The state and the city can each allocate up to $800 million in bonds for residential rental projects, part of $8 billion Congress allocated for post-9/11 economic recovery Downtown.

Some critics have blasted the use of Liberty Bonds to create luxury housing. But Chris Albanese, executive vice president of Albanese, said last spring that the Solaire project would probably have been canceled after Sept. 11, 2001 if Liberty Bonds had not become available.

It currently costs 20 percent more to construct a green building, according to an official with the city’s Department of City Planning. Pataki said on Friday that as the cost of environmentally friendly construction decreases, rents would go down as well.

“We’re sure we’re going to be able to bring down the rents to affordable housing,” Pataki said.