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Greensboro's Proximity Hotel Excels in Comfort and Green Innovation

August 8th 2011

Travel - Proximity Hotel

Proximity Hotel in beautiful Greensboro, North Carolina, is uncommon in that it not only offers luxury, but it sits on the cutting edge of a trend towards environmentally-friendly and energy efficient accommodation. Opened in 2008, Proximity Hotel is in the heart of Greensboro’s business and shopping district where travellers can not only make their appointments, but also enjoy natural surroundings in this quiet retreat. While it less than 300 feet away from one of the area’s busiest thoroughfares, at Proximity Hotel you will be soothed and energized by a restored natural stream that wends its way through tall grass where a colony of turtles and other wildlife can be seen.

Partners Dennis Quaintance and Mike Weaver own a hotel-restaurant business and wanted to make a difference in business and contribute to how America expends energy and natural resources. Since its opening, Proximity Hotel won the prestigious certification by the US Green Building Council as a leader in energy and environmental design. Proximity is the country's first LEED Platinum "green" hotel and, while the owners have made a commitment to sustainable practices, their guests don't sacrifice any luxury or creature comforts there. One of Proximity's mottos is "We believe that deprivation is not sustainable."

Reflecting his dual ethic of environmental responsibility and guest comfort, Quaintance said, “How can you tell if the hot water for your shower was heated by yesterday’s sunlight or with natural gas?”, adding, “We made sure none of our sustainable practices caused one iota of sacrifice in comfort for our guests.”

Proximity Hotel is a AAA Four Diamond property, where sustainable practices, custom-designed furnishings, commissioned art and innovative design await guests at its 147 guest-rooms and suites and at its adjacent restaurant, Print Works Bistro. It was built to use 40 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than a comparable hotel. It’s green sustainable design and construction follows the guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System,™ the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Both Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro attained the USGBC’s highest rating, LEED Platinum.

Proximity features ultra-efficient materials and the latest in building technology such as North America's first installation of the regenerative drive for Otis' Gen2 elevator, which reduces net energy usage by capturing the system’s energy and feeds it back into the building’s internal electrical grid. In addition, 100 solar panels on the roof generate energy to heat water. While many of the energy enchancements may not be immediately visible, guests are sure to notice the oversized windows providing abundant natural light, fresh air, and scenic vistas.

Water at the hotel is heated by 100 solar panels on the roof, while the hotel gets other savings by using geothermal energy. According to the USGBC, Proximity Hotel uses 39 percent less energy and 33 percent less water than comparable hotels. By using local sources and innovative techniques and artisans, the construction of the hotel diverted 87 percent of construction debris from landfills. "The widely held notion that building and operating hotels with a commitment to sustainable practices is too expensive is a myth," Quaintance said in an interview. "We wanted to get to the point where we're not wasting energy and the guest is still very comfortable - and that's where we ended up."  Quaintance, in another interview, said that “Our goal is to contribute to what I call an adjustment trajectory towards a more sustainable environment.”

Since Proximity’s designation, only one other hotel in the country has been named an LEED Platinum property. Other developers have been slower to adopt Proximity’s ethic, perhaps deciding that green construction is too costly and adversely affects their bottom line. There has been a misconception that green building methods add 20 to 25 percent to project costs. According to Todd Mansfield, formerly of the Urban Land Institute, these costs are more typically around 5 percent.

Quaintance himself estimates the green elements of the Proximity added a net cost of about $800,000, or 3 percent, to his $29 million hotel. He expects to recoup it by 2012 through energy savings, state and federal tax credits and other incentives. Unlike other developers, Quaintance was willing to wait for a payoff - but many developers aren't – and to put in the many elements of green buildings such as: sensors that switch off the lights in empty rooms to high-tech drapes that retain heat more efficiently. The hotel's energy efficiency will add hundreds of thousands of dollars to Proximity’s bottom line in coming years. And, already, about 15 percent of the Proximity's revenues come from clients who want to hold weddings, meetings and charitable events there precisely because it is a green hotel.

In North Carolina’s Research Triangle, there are several dozen LEED-certified office, university and public buildings under way or completed. Durham, in fact, is among the national leaders in LEED buildings per capita. And Duke University sets the pace with 16 buildings completed and another 12 seeking certification. Scientific Properties and Trinity Design/Build have kept pace with their own LEED-certified buildings. Greenfire Development, one of the city's largest developers, has several innovative projects using green technology.

To encourage green development, Quaintance suggested incentives to be given for earning LEED certification. For example, one incentive could be tax depreciation for new buildings with energy and water consumption that exceed efficiency standards. Public institutions, such as colleges and universities, could be required to provide estimates of the first five years of utility costs for all new-builds. Estimates could show where the long-term savings from green features, such as solar panels, exceed upfront costs. Quaintance hopes that Proximity’s innovations will soon be eclipsed by newer structures and thus allow green projects put more green in developers’ pockets.

The technology at Proximity makes innovative use of natural resources. For example, the hotel’s 100 solar panels cover 4,000 square feet of rooftop (enough hot water for a hundred homes). This heats around 60 percent  of the water for both the hotel and restaurant. The bistro bar is made of salvaged, solid walnut trees that came down through sickness or storm and room service trays made of Plyboo (bamboo plywood). Newly-engineered variable speed hoods in the restaurant uses a series of sensors to set the power according to the kitchen's needs and adjusts to a lower level of operation (typically 25 percent of  capacity). The sensors also detect heat, smoke or other effluents and increase the fan speed to keep the air fresh.

Geothermal energy is used for the restaurant’s refrigeration equipment, instead of a standard water-cooled system, saving significant amounts of water. America's first Regenerative Drive model of the Otis' Gen2 elevator reduces net energy usage by capturing the system’s energy and feeds it back into the building’s internal electrical grid.  In addition, abundant natural lighting, including large energy-efficient “operable” windows (7’4” square windows in guest rooms), connects guests to the outdoors by achieving a direct line of sight to the outdoor environment for more than 97 percent of all regularly occupied spaces.

The hotel’s builders made use of local materials, much of it sustainable. The bistro bar is made of salvaged, solid walnut trees that came down through sickness or storm and room service trays made of Plyboo (bamboo plywood). Local artists provided unique paintings and other media in guest-rooms and common areas.
Newly-engineered variable speed hoods in the restaurant uses a series of sensors to set the power according to the kitchen's needs and adjusts to a lower level of operation (typically 25% of their full capacity). The sensors also detect heat, smoke or other effluents and increase the fan speed to keep the air fresh.  Geothermal energy is used for the restaurant’s refrigeration equipment, instead of a standard water-cooled system, saving significant amounts of water.

Abundant natural lighting, including large energy-efficient “operable” windows (7’4” square windows in guest rooms), connects guests to the outdoors and provides a direct line of sight to the outdoors for more than 97 percent of all regularly occupied spaces. Low-emitting volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, adhesives, and carpets reduce indoor air contamination. Guest-room shelving and the bistro’s tabletops are made of walnut veneer, over a substrate of SkyBlend, a particleboard made from 100 percent post-industrial recycled wood pulp with no added formaldehyde.

In addition, a green, vegetated rooftop will be planted on the restaurant to reduce the urban heat island effect. Thus, the green roof reflects heat, thus reducing the amount of energy needed for refrigeration and air conditioning. This also slows the rain runoff and insulates the rooftop, keeping the building cooler overall. Bicycles are available for guests to ride on the nearby five-mile greenway.

Amenities at the hotel include the Social or Working Lobby, adjacent to the Print Works Bistro, as well as spaces suitable for private dinners or events. The Bistro is nothing less than hot. It offers extraordinary dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, featuring features traditional and modern versions of classic dishes popular for decades in European Bistros and a wonderful wine selection. The outdoor terrace dining area is adjacent to a stream and natural area.

To work off job-stress and calories, the Fitness Studio is available next to the pool on the Lower Lobby and is available 24 hours a day, accessible with your guestroom key. It features Precor Elliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bicycles, all of which are equipped with flat screen televisions and audio headset connectivity. Free weights, yoga mats, and exercise balls are available for use with Fitness TV. Audio headsets, towels and water are available complimentary in the Fitness Studio. A jogging and biking trail is available at a short distance from the hotel.

For your convenience, computer access and printing are located in each “Guest Living Room” just off the elevators between the 3rd through 8th floors. This amenity is available 24 hours a day at no charge. Complimentary wired and wireless internet access is available throughout the hotel and bistro.

And for departing and arriving guests, complimentary airport transportation is provided for all guests between 6 AM and 11 PM. When possible, we'll also provide transportation to nearby shopping, dining and entertainment for a fee.  All of the hotel’s public areas have been to ensure easy access to all guests. Proximity also has specially-designed guestrooms to accommodate guests with disabilities, including equipment to assist the hearing impaired. In-room massages are available seven days a week, until 11 PM each evening.


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