When mechanical contractors Tim Pulliam and Steve Morse first started teaching classes on renewable energy and energy efficiency in Traverse City more than a decade ago, they got to thinking: How could they help people save money and live lighter on the planet? From that seed of an idea, they launched Keen Technical Solutions, specializing in energy conservation strategies (check out this new Traverse Magazine feature about Keen). These days, Keen is recognized as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation, and its newest project is equally impressive: a completely “green” building on one of the most coveted corners in downtown Traverse City. We caught up with Keen co-founder Tim Pulliam to get the dish on what we’ll be seeing soon at Front and Cass.

You guys are the energy efficiency pros; tell us about your “sustainable solutions” for this specific project.

At this point we’re shooting for LEED gold certification. We are sourcing many of the building materials and construction materials locally. We’re working with SEEDS to harvest and mill an invasive species from the national forest on Leelanau Peninsula; it’s called black locust, and it’s going to be one of the finishes that we use for a lot of the building. Obviously, the mechanical and electrical systems are going to be pretty awesome. We’re putting in dimming systems, daylighting, solar light pipes. It’ll have a very tight building envelope. And we’ll use a lot of local, sustainable finishes to build it out.

With so many historic storefronts in Traverse City, it seems this project will be a great example of what’s possible with new construction downtown.

Right off the bat when we acquired the space, we heard, ‘Oh, that’s a great site,’ and ‘You should just tear everything down and build some big four- or five-story development and bring in all sorts of outside money and outside businesses.’ But that didn’t make sense for us. We’re trying to build something that matches the scale of our downtown, that seems sustainable for what our business can afford, and also seems sustainable for what our downtown Traverse City can bear.

The owners of Trattoria Stella will be opening a brand-new restaurant in the space. Any hints about what we can expect?

It’s nothing like Stella’s. It will have a new name and a completely new concept. And here’s the other fun thing: When you look at our vision and our business values, they parallel a lot with Stella’s. Their ability to bring in great local and fresh Northern Michigan produce and meats, it’s right in line with what we’re doing from a construction standpoint.

When might we see this whole “Front and Cass” building completed?

The goal at this point is May 1. No screwin’ around. There’s cold beer to be drunk on the deck up there, so we’re trying to get this done.

This article was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy today!


Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski