Trends: The BRIT, Emerging Markets, Private Equity, Mezzanine Finance and Investing

On Tuesday we took a field trip to The Botanical Research Institute of Texas because it was LEED Platinum. Then we returned to class and discussed the rest of the topics.

It’s been interesting to see LEED projects up close and see that average people not only wouldn’t do them, but couldn’t.

This project had a lot of really interesting features, some done impractically and some that wouldn’t have been done at all if a cost/benefit analysis had been done.

They’re an independent non-profit dedicated to botanical cataloging and research. See more about their mission here:

http://www.brit.org/

Some of the cool features was that one wall was made of reclaimed sinker Cyprus wood which was basically wood lost and abandoned years ago in the logging industry. But then the architect went and made funky designs out of it and used a lot more wood than needed.

They have a green roof where they’re trying to grow native prairie grass. Another roof has solar panel tubes on it. The tubes can catch solar energy from any angle. Unfortunately it wasn’t very practical because the company who made them has since gone out of business. They provide 14% of the building’s energy. The tour guide thought that they cost 2-3 times more than regular panels but that they would recoup the investment in 5 years. That doesn’t sound right though as most regular solar panels take longer than that to recoup.

They tried to do their parking lot according to low impact development which is a way to maintain the natural hydrology of a place instead of contributing to the storm water runoff problem most buildings have. When I was leaving I didn’t see many curb cuts where they probably should have been. But they say they’re able to collect enough rainwater in a retention pond that they can continue to irrigate in the summer when everyone else has water restrictions. Of course they have to do press releases to explain that they’re not violating the restrictions.

The put 100% wool carpet in many of the rooms which was a bad idea. While it doesn’t have VOCs, it sheds terribly when vacuumed. In the low light I could see it was worn and dirty from foot traffic. Even the tour guide thought that one was probably a bad idea.

They have a geothermal well that we didn’t get to hear much about. Evidently their cooling/heating bill is pretty low.

They have flushless urinals which we were encouraged to go see. Honestly, I think those things need to be flushed at least a little. It was kinda gross.

The research area made more sense. The floors were frequently dirty from plant clippings and dirt and were made of recycled rubber which were easy to clean, durable and hid the dirt well.

They have to keep the storage areas cool for the 1 million plant clippings they have. Most of the plants carry an interesting story though none of that seemed relevant to our real estate class.

Overall, it was an interesting science and sustainability tour. Like I said, the more I see of LEED projects, the more I understand why most people don’t do it.

When we returned to class, we touched on the topics of the day. Honestly, this was the hardest discussion for me. Emerging markets are interesting. I could talk about Brazil, India, China, Chile, etc all day.

But the rest of the institutional money… well there just isn’t that much going on with it in the news. Everyone knows we’re in a recession and this percentage point or that percentage point just isn’t interesting. So we didn’t talk about that much other to make the point that debt is usually cheaper to use than private equity.

As for emerging markets, we looked at China’s building boom and their ghost cities. They’re building cities to meet mandated growth goals but only a small fraction of their population can afford the price so they’re sitting vacant. They’re also already starting to need maintenance and may become uninhabitable before people can afford to move in.

There are a few videos out there on China’s modular building prowess. See this 2 minute video on a Chinese Hotel Built in 6 days:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E76uJi744Do

We talked about modular or prefab building a couple of times. The reason I think it hasn’t caught on here yet is the scale needed to make it profitable. China has production factories constantly running with orders for these things. A factory like that here would need a lot more business. If some major builder picks it up, we’ll probably see a lot more of it.

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