September 8, 2006
By Spencer Heinz
David Griswold felt a twinge of concern. This was back in 2001, and he was scouting for space for his organic coffee-importing business inside a deeply ecological Portland building under construction at the time. The guide mentioned that the building wouldn't have full walls between many tenants.
"Kind of crazy," Griswold recalls thinking. He imagined chaos from immersion with drastically disparate companies, from bank to pizza shop to pharmacy. But the project manager persuaded him with thinking that went like this:
It will not be too loud. Builders will create low- or no-walled places — working, meeting and dining nooks called "spontaneous interaction spaces." It will be egalitarian, with equal access to light. As such, employees of all kinds will bump into one another and plant fresh thoughts.
Five years later, Griswold, president of Sustainable Harvest specialty coffee importers, is a believer.
"It works," he says.
His experience is typical inside the Ecotrust Building, a three-story "green" structure at 721 N.W. Ninth Ave. On Saturday, Ecotrust will host a public fair — the Salmon Nation Block Party — inside and outside the building. The party will celebrate the building's fifth anniversary while calling attention to what's happening to local forests, waters and lands.
Formally known as Ecotrust's Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, the 1895 warehouse reopened five years ago this month as a bottom-to-top renovation with the latest environmental-building features and a profitable tenant mix of what managers describe as "the three pillars that create a community" — nonprofits, private businesses and government combined with an environmental mission.
They say the idea is to help spread the idea of a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable ecosystem, throughout the city, nation and world.
To Ecotrust founder and President Spencer Beebe and his colleagues, Salmon Nation represents a concept and a place. The concept is of sharing the planet, the place is wherever salmon run. They see salmon runs as barometers of the health of humans, other creatures and the economy.
The symbolism starts in the lobby with a lectern-size log of century-old Douglas fir. It features a signup booklet for becoming a citizen of Salmon Nation with the pledge:
"I believe that where I live matters. I believe that there is enough for everyone. I recognize that we all live downstream of one another and are thus interconnected. I am a Citizen of Salmon Nation and I pledge to live here like I mean it!"
Building engineer Mike Wilson makes the morning rounds. He walks past tenant businesses such as Pearl Pharmacy, Patagonia, ShoreBank Pacific, World Cup Coffee. He mentions energy-saving fluorescent lighting, a computerized system that cools the building in summer by drawing in night-chilled air, and Hot Lips Pizza's process of capturing pizza-oven warmth to heat water.
Urban Works Real Estate principal Craig Sweitzer, the commercial real estate broker who helped situate some of Ecotrust's ground-floor tenants several years ago, says the Ecotrust building and renovated Brewery Blocks show that tenants will be attracted to old buildings with environmentally sound materials. The idea isn't lost on other developers, large and small, he says: "Kind of like a snowball effect."
The Ecotrust Building's materials include recycled paints, original doors reframed as partial dividers between offices, and parking lot plants and bioswales to help filter and guide rainwater into the city's storm water drains.
Emalee Assenberg, the building's gardener, stands on the rain-catching eco-roof and studies the parking lot below.
"If every urban parking lot looked like this, what a different America we'd have," she says. "What a different world we'd have."
Spencer Heinz: 503-221-8072; firstname.lastname@example.org<