Preserving more than just history

The Portland Business Journal named Venerable Properties one of their 2014 Innovation in Sustainability Award in the Green Building Category. The following is the article by Jon Bell, staff writer, that accompanied the announcement:

For Craig Kelly, president of Venerable Properties, green building often has very little to do with building at all.

“I see historic renovation as the greenest thing you can do,” he said. “You simply will never make up for the energy required in tearing down an existing building and then building new.”

It’s a philosophy that Kelly has followed for more than two decades, originally as a broker who sold old apartment buildings in Northwest Portland in the early ’90s and throughout his time with Venerable, which he joined in 1994. Kelly was a partner at Venerable with Art DeMuro, the founder of the company who passed away in 2012.

That’s not to say that Venerable doesn’t do sustainable new construction — it does — but the firm’s focus is almost always on historic renovations. Its flagship projects have included the preservation and redevelopment of Portland’s historic Ladd Carriage House, Fire Station No. 7 in Southeast and the three-building White Stag Block in Old Town Chinatown.

Historic renovation, like the work on Fire Station No. 7, is "the greenest thing you can do."While some of his projects have earned LEED certifications, Kelly believes there are often better measures for sustainability, such as preserving or reusing old windows or restoring original facades, something Venerable did with the 1883 Bickel Block on the White Stag project.

“I think there’s often more to (sustainability) then being in a mass-transit zone or having enough bike parking,” he said.

Twenty years after joining Venerable, Kelly said one of the biggest shifts in sustainability and historic renovation is how much more mainstream it is these days than it was when he started. Back then, people weren’t counting carbon units or the points they needed for LEED certification.

“It’s like anything else though, there was a time when people weren’t counting their calories, either,” Kelly said. “People are just more conscious of it now. It’s also big business these days and, to be honest, it can be too expensive to put all that stuff in the landfill.”

DeMuro’s passing in 2012 dealt Venerable a body blow, and it has taken some time for the firm to get beyond the loss. Kelly said its current renovation of Washington High School in Southeast Portland, which will convert the old school into commercial and creative office space, has gotten the firm back on track. The $18 million project is expected to wrap up by early 2015 with tenants, including New Seasons’ headquarters office, moving in as early as January.

“This is the kind of project we like to do,” Kelly said, “the kind we’d like to do more of.”