Energizing Downtown UniSource Energy’s New Headquarters

By David B. Pittman –

There’s a new energy in downtown Tucson and it’s emanating from UniSource Energy’s recently constructed nine-story corporate headquarters – a building designed to have a huge impact economically and a tiny footprint environmentally.

UniSource Energy Corporation, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power, began operating from its new home at the southeast corner of Scott and Broadway on 11/11/11. The $60 million, energy-efficient structure provides 232,000 square feet of space for more than 500 employees.

Many decisions regarding this building – from its location to the inclusion of 8,700 square feet of ground-floor retail space – contribute to the revitalization of Tucson’s urban core. Construction of the project, which includes state-of-the-art conference facilities and an integrated underground parking garage, got underway in June 2010 and was completed on time and under budget.

Paul Bonavia, CEO and Chairman of UniSource Energy, said building the new corporate headquarters made good business sense because employees of the utility “were spread out in basements, shoeboxes and closets all over the city. The new building will help us work together more efficiently and effectively.”

But the new building is about more than just the utility’s bottom line. Bonavia also wanted the project to demonstrate the company’s commitments to energy efficiency and the future of downtown.

“The new UniSource Energy building is a symbol of our company’s confidence in downtown Tucson,” he said. “We’re proud to have our headquarters in the heart of downtown, where TEP got its start more than a century ago.”

In addition to TEP, which serves more than 400,000 customers in Southern Arizona, UniSource Energy Corporation also operates UniSource Energy Services, a provider of natural gas and electric service to another 277,000 customers in Northern and Southern Arizona. UniSource Energy Corp. has consolidated assets of about $3.9 billion.

Bob Elliott, a former University of Arizona basketball great who owns Elliott Accounting Group, is the lead director of UniSource Energy’s board of directors. Using hoops vernacular, Elliott said it is fitting that UniSource, Tucson’s largest publicly traded company, stepped up to become a downtown anchor.

“When you’re the leading scorer for the team, sometimes you have to step up and take the crucial shot,” Elliott said. “We were the right ones to take the shot – and I’d say we drained it.”

That sentiment was echoed by community leaders attending a Jan. 27 Open House Gala at the UniSource headquarters, which included dinner and exclusive tours of the facility. The event raised more than $12,000 for the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.

“This building has importance for our entire community,” said Tony Penn, the local United Way president and CEO, who hosted the gala along with Bonavia. “We should thank TEP for their imagination and innovation in improving the skyline of Tucson.”

Michael Keith, CEO of Downtown Tucson Partnership, predicted the UniSource headquarters would have “one of the biggest impacts on downtown in half a century.”

Bonnie Allin, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority, cited the utility company’s new corporate offices as an “example of what private investment is bringing to downtown, as seen in more businesses, dining and entertainment options.”

Phillip Swaim, president of Tucson-based Swaim Associates, local design partner for the project, called the building both “a milestone in downtown revitalization and a model for efficient, environmentally responsible design.”

This all-electric showcase of energy efficiency was designed to meet LEED Gold standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council, which UniSource Energy officials are confident they will receive. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Its rectangular footprint minimizes exposure to direct sunlight from the east and west, and an integrated shade structure shields its western face. The list of green-building features incorporated into the project is impressive. For instance, the building includes:

• Heating and cooling systems exceeding the baseline threshold for LEED certification by more than 25 percent.

• Solar power systems that include a solar water-heating system and a 50-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array featuring the same high-efficiency panels utilized in TEP’s Bright Roofs program, which gives owners of large commercial buildings the opportunity to lease unused roof space to the utility for the installation of grid-tied solar arrays.

• High-performance windows that maximize both fantastic views and the use of natural daylight, which streams into every floor.

• Innovative water harvesting that directs rainwater through a series of filters and into a 150,000-gallon cistern embedded beneath the building’s main entrance for use irrigating on-site landscaping.

• Elevators that when going down actually generate electrical power for use in the building.

• Water conservation systems that utilize dual-flush toilets, low-flush urinals, sensor-equipped faucets and a drinking water system that uses biodegradable plastic cups that eliminate the need for bottled water. These systems together are designed to reduce water usage by 33 percent.

• Green building products – such as low-emitting paint, carpeting, tiles and other finish materials – that optimize interior air quality. In addition, the company is committed to a program using only environmentally friendly substances for cleaning.

• Electric vehicle chargers and preferred parking for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles are utilized in the three-floor underground parking garage.

“Many of the best features of our new building grew almost organically from our own green energy programs,” Bonavia said. “After years of helping our customers invest in energy-efficient, solar-powered homes, we’re excited to be moving into one of our own.”

Construction processes utilized in the project resulted in the recycling of nearly 80 percent of waste materials. The vast majority of concrete, metal and paper-based waste was reprocessed for future use.

This project is already an award winner, having received a Common Ground Award from Metropolitan Pima Alliance in October for work done in planning, designing, permitting and constructing the building. The award honors projects that embody collaborative efforts between business and government that significantly improve the Tucson-area community.

The collaborative effort cited by MPA got underway with the establishment of a submittal and review schedule for construction that was agreed to at a January 2010 meeting. Within six months – a timeline virtually unheard of in Tucson – the entire developmental package was approved and construction got underway.

Offices of top-ranking UniSource executives are on the ninth floor. From the office of David Hutchens, the newly appointed president of the company, the breathtaking birds-eye view looking north features the Tortolita and Catalina Mountains and a huge swath of Tucson, the campus and surrounding communities.

“I love this building,” Hutchens said. “Location wise, it’s great to have all our people in one spot instead of scattered around various operation centers. It makes it much easier to get things done. And it’s great being downtown because you can feel the pulse of the city.”

Missing from the building is a company cafeteria, which was omitted deliberately to increase business at downtown eateries.

“It’s awesome to see all the TEP employees going out to lunch,” Hutchens said. “When you add 500 people in a one block area, it’s bound to have a huge impact. This could be the beginning of a renaissance downtown.”

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