Justin Doyle has a message for developers who believe there is little to be gained, financially, from an investment in sustainable design. For Doyle, going green "was a no-brainer."


Doyle is a principal at Modus Engineering Ltd. and became a pioneer of sorts last year after making the first significant purchase of land in the city's Market District area, a conglomeration of warehouses and old industrial sites that the city of Des Moines views as a key development area.


For the present, it is an important expansion area for Modus, which is outgrowing its offices at 1717 Ingersoll Ave. The space was built to hold 32 people. Modus has 31 employees and could have another on the way.


"We thought it was going to be a 10-year solution for our company, but it lasted about four," Doyle said.


The search for new space led Doyle to the 105-year-old Advance Rumely at 130 E. Third St. Modus will occupy the third floor, where it will have room to grow to 60 employees. Current first-floor tenant Builders Kitchen & Supply Co. has decided that it will remain in the building.


That's all good news, but the really exciting stuff for Doyle, whose firm specializes in consulting on the mechanical aspects of buildings, is his plan to make the structure the first commercial net zero structure in the city, meaning it will produce as much energy as it consumes.


The $14 million renovation of the building, which will be called Market One, includes geothermal and a solar array that will also act as a canopy over a parking lot that will be developed on land Doyle acquired directly east of the building.

Geothermal and renewable energy tax credits along with utility rebates will account for about 3 percent of the total project costs. When combined with state and federal tax credits for historic renovation the building and repurposing a structure in a brownfield area, the costs of development drop by about one-third. The project also is expected to receive about $1.5 million in tax increment financing.


Doyle said the key to putting together bank and equity financing for sustainable projects is using the array of tax credit programs that are available.


"The question is how willing you are to spend the time to make it work," he said.

Another way that Doyle pencils out a sustainable project is by factoring in some intangibles, such as the quality of workers he can attract and retain. People who would like their workplace to reflect the way they want to live.


"I can't say that I'm going to save $29,000 a year on electricity, but I can factor in my ability to recruit talent," he said.


And he acknowledges that he might not be able to charge tenants higher rents just to occupy a green space, but "I can get quicker absorption" and that will lead to dependable cash flows.


Doyle believes that other developers will follow his lead.


"There are going to be canaries in the coal mine who are going to prove that this can be done," he said.


Doyle is willing to play that role.