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Green team saves old to build new

Jorge Riano is part of a gang of three that sees new and thinks old.

The gang, one a longtime Hendersonville architect and the other two Charleston entrepreneurs, are collaborating on the design and construction of Biz 611, a business incubator that could be the home for software writers and new startups.
Biz611, at 611 Church Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, is just north of the old Landmark Apartments. Jonathan Butler, a programmer who cofounded the Automated Trading Desk and then sold it to Citibank for $600 million in cash and stocks, bought the land and apartment building. After renovating the old Landmark as living quarters for his family, Butler began work on a business incubator similar to two successful ones he helped build in Charleston.
Biz611, scheduled to be done by early 2013, is a 10,000-square-foot two-story building that will showcase sustainable innovation in construction, energy use and waste management.
Riano, who was visiting last week from Charleston, walked around the construction site, where Ken Gaylord's Blackhawk Construction Co. crew was busy putting up the steel structure for the building. Riano's company, Greenby3, helps businesses "rethink, reclaim and revive" materials.
The Church Street side will be made of reclaimed brick, except the brick will be somewhat obscured. It will be covered with green. Plants, maybe even fruits and vegetables, if the gang of three can figure out how, will grow up from the ground, clinging to a steel grid two stories high.
"If you could walk out on that balcony and pick an apple off that green wall and eat it, that would be great," said Riano. Hard to do, considering apples grow on trees, not vines. But Riano, Butler and Gaylord will dream first, then apply science and see if it might work. They plan to work with local growers to learn what will work best in their vertical garden.
A green wall is only one of many sustainable features that residents might notice. Drive by the old Grey Hosiery Mill and you can see piles of brick salvaged from the two Landmark annexes Butler demolished to make room for Biz611.
"When we deconstructed these buildings we wanted to make sure that as much as possible everything that we took out and deconstructed did not go to the landfill," Riano said. "It's easy for a demolition company to come in here, demo everything, put it in their waste container and haul it to a landfill. That's the easy way to do that. But when you can work with companies that have an interest in environment, then it becomes easier to do (sustainable work) and you can do a lot more."
Does it save money?
"We did a cost comparison, so in all the cost estimates we did we knew where our break-even was, and that was about 9,000 brick" to reuse. "Once we went over 9,000 brick, our return on investment sort of diminished. If we can get 9,000 bricks, where can we use that brick? We said let's use it here (on the east wall) because this is a statement and the most presence the building will have to the street. It requires about 8,000 brick, and then we've got about another thousand brick we can use."
Using an air chisel and chipping by hand, a crew of four has been cleaning the 100-year-old bricks. The old mortar was high in sand makeup, making it easier to knock off.
"We've gotten pretty good, Greenby3 has, in cleaning the brick," Riano said. "The last time we were here, we cleaned 3,500 brick in about 12 hours. So we've got the process down where we set up our process, we do it on site. We've got two people cleaning and two people stacking on the pallet, so at the end of the day when we're done, the brick is on a pallet ready for the construction guys to come with their forklift and put it on their truck and bring it over here."
Riano and Butler both say they've gotten encouragement and cooperation from City Hall and economic development officials for their project.
"When I see what goes on here and compare it to Charleston, things get done a lot easier here because of the passion for the environment," Riano said.