(June 2012) When it comes to being environmentally conscious, Greensboro’s Proximity hotel is “near” perfect.
In late 2008, it became the first hotel in the United States to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum Award – its highest rating –under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) System.
The eight-story, 147-room, box-shaped, $30 million hotel was only open a year before also earning AAA’s prestigious Four Diamond award in 2008.
“I would never have believed that we could use 41% less energy and 33% less water without one iota of compromise in comfort or luxury with minimal additional construction costs,” said Dennis Quaintance, chief executive officer and chief design officer, who is a strong believer in “sustainable” practices – the buzzword used by those seeking a less intrusive footprint on the environment. (See related interview in the Spotlight box to the right).
The hundred 4X10 feet solar panels on the roof heat hotel water and reduce electricity costs. The hotel entrance faces a large parking lot and is walking distance from Green Valley Road where a bus stop for employees who choose not to drive to work is a plus in LEED ratings. The hotel is located at 704 Green Valley Road and explicit directions should be sought before visiting for the first time, since it is not close to Interstate 85.
Huge white rectangular concrete columns bracket the entrance and Porte cochére. The columns are adorned with white curtains and the black asphalt driveway is made of 25% recyclable materials. Outside lighting focuses downward so they don’t affect the migratory patterns of birds. The hotel sign on the outside of the building is lit from within for the same bird-friendly reason.
Shrubs flanking the tiered entrance steps are all natural to North Carolina, including dwarf magnolias and sip drip irrigation. No wasteful water spray is used and no grass can be found on the hotel grounds, with mulch covering bare areas. Concrete paths (which contain 4% recycled ash content) encircle the building and outside benches in two locations provide respite for smokers, since the Proximity and the Print Works Bistro are non-smoking.
Designed using the basic construction blueprint for a real cotton mill and then converted into a hotel, the name comes from the Proximity Cotton Mill, the first and largest Greensboro factory built in 1896 in the complex later known as Cone Mills. Print Works was also the name of another local factory.
Entering the hotel lobby through a revolving door (preserving interior temperatures), guests are drawn to a 16-foot long rectangular I-beam covered in bronze protruding from a wall on the right floating four feet above the floor, with a cantilevered anchor concealed behind the wall.
It symbolizes the light, airy lobby ambiance, which includes a straight-ahead view of 22-foot high windows originating from the lower lobby, and huge green curtains hanging ceiling to floor on the left wall above a long couch faced with individual chairs. Several sitting areas are scattered about the lobby, including one with a white flokati rug and white patent leather banquette seating. The floor is brown limestone, with a 100-year or more life span and three huge orchid planters provide a artistic touch.
A pair of circular staircases made of 50% recycled steel lead to the second lobby-like area below with additional conversational seating areas and planters behind couches growing small patches of grass that people often run their fingers through. The ground-level lobby also provides an entrance way to the 86-seat Print Works Bistro, with its own environmental touches, like corrugated cardboard coasters at the bar, a reclaimed walnut bar counter top, water served without ice (unless requested), fifty-two 7-foot tall windows often opened to breezes when appropriate for indoor dining with an outdoor ambiance, and more swatches of descending white curtains to sub-divide the hall-like dining area. Out of sight are range hoods in the kitchen with fans calibrated to run no faster than necessary to remove current cooking heat. Rated Three Diamonds, it has an eclectic menu.
Using elevator technology popular in Europe, the Proximity has the United State’s first self-generating electric elevator, using similar mechanics to that in hybrid cars, where applying the brakes creates kinetic energy used to recharge vehicle batteries. The elevator, when braking, uses that energy to generate the electricity needed to power the elevators – “sustainable,” says Quaintance proudly. Elevators are located in the interior of the building, like the stand-up business areas on each floor that include a honor bar for sodas, hot, cold or room temperature filtered water station and ice dispenser. and a free computer on a chest-high table already hooked up to the internet that is often used by guests to access and print airline boarding passes. A house phone is available in a small seating area.
The business areas have no doors but achieve semi-privacy with curtains that reach three-fourths of the way to the floor and absorb sound. Illumination comes from fluorescent lights in the business center and hallways muted by lightly painted lamps that emit a more natural lighting ambiance. Emergency stairs are also located at each end in the center of the hotel.
The design allows all four sides of the building to provide 7’4” square windows for each of the 147 guest rooms and contributes to 97% of occupied spaces having a direct line of sight outdoors. Rooms are rectangular in shape with 10-foot high ceilings and not encumbered with bureaus or interior doors, instead using bi-level walnut particleboard shelving along the wall for the flat-screen television, guest services information and magazines. The closet has a curtain, as do some of the clothes storage shelves.
Without drawers or swinging doors, the rooms feel less congested. Often the only interior door is a sliding pocket door to the bathroom. The spa rooms have swinging windows that open in the wall above the tub, for a view to the window outside or the television on the shelf. The shower and tub are parallel to one another.
Room walls are recycled dry wall and every painted surface anywhere in the hotel used low-emitting volatile organic compound paint to reduce indoor air contamination. Wallpaper was not used anywhere in the hotel. Ceilings are concrete slabs.
Bathroom amenities on the granite counter include Aveda brand shampoo, conditioner, hand cream and soap. The Kohler silver faucets dispense water that has all the air removed so it doesn’t splash and wets hands quicker and the system heats all water in eight seconds, eliminating the long wait for the shower water to warm up.
The hotel’s fitness studio contains four treadmills, two exercise bikes, two elliptical machines, free weights and exercise balls – all resting upon a black rubber floor made from recycled tires. Complimentary outside bikes are available for guests who request them. The rest rooms have showers.
Outside the fitness room, a T-shaped infinity pool with 3 to 5 feet depth uses recycled water and has seating areas served with food upon request from the bistro.
Despite being down the street from the High Point Furniture Market, the green approach for the furniture industry is just not there, said Quaintance. Still the hotel purchased 90% of its furniture locally, including some white patent leather booths that Quaintance says have “style because ugly ain’t sustainable.”
Throughout the hotel, curtains and drapes help soften the look of concrete, steel and brick, as well as aid acoustics. And wood, where used, also provides a soft ambiance. Some areas have exposed piping, seeking loft-like aesthetics that would be found in a 1930’s mill.
Throughout the hotel, piped in music plays recordings chosen by Quaintance and his partner, Mike Weaver. The variety and quality of the songs has led many to ask if they could buy a copy. To date, they don’t have copies to sell. It may be the only thing the owners didn’t think of.