Energy-efficient makeover marks milestone for audio-visual firm

  • Article by: DON JACOBSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 20, 2012 - 5:34 PM

Milestone AV Technologies said revamping the old Department 56 building it occupies was good for business.

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The 85,000-square-foot building uses natural light, low-flow plumbing fixtures and other upgrades to leave a smaller resource-usage footprint.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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When executives for Milestone AV Technologies saw that the former Eden Prairie headquarters of bankrupt Department 56 was on the market last year, they saw a rare chance to grab a single-user office building in a prestigious location that was just the right size for their growing company.

Leaders for the audio-visual equipment maker also saw a chance to fashion a 25-year-old, 85,000-square-foot building into a showcase of environmental stewardship supported not only by the employees, but by key customers who increasingly demand suppliers adhere to Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design, (LEED) standards.

The makeover of Milestone's new headquarters on City West Parkway paid off this month with its designation as a LEED-CI (commercial interiors) Silver facility, which to CEO Scott Gill is a fulfillment of the company's commitment to corporate responsibility.

The move was "driven by our customers and employees," Gill said. "A lot of our customers in the commercial AV market weigh LEED as part of who they do business with. That was one of the drivers, and also we felt like it was an opportunity to invest for the long-term in the building."

Gill wouldn't specify how much the company paid for the upgrades, which were considerable, but said the payoff on lower utility bills, employee satisfaction and the access they're providing to several important AV equipment markets made it worth the investment. 

Milestone says it has 6,000 customers around the world and holds the biggest share in the North American audio-visual solutions market through its Chief, Da-Lite and Sanus brand equipment, which are used to mount flat-screen televisions, displays and projectors to walls. 

It also makes audio-visual furniture for the fast-growing commercial and consumer markets.

The company -- owned by the Chicago-based Duchossois Group -- keeps it financial information private, but Gill says it sales are now "well north" of the $204 million it claimed in 2006 when it filed for an initial public offering, which was later withdrawn. 

Two important segments of Milestone's market are governments and the commercial office furniture industry, which are keen on insisting suppliers meet LEED requirements both on the manufacturing of the products and how they conduct day-to-day business. 

The LEED upgrades, designed by Mekus Tanager architecture of Chicago and carried out by Minnetonka-based Welsh Construction, centered around providing more natural light for the 168 Twin Cities-area employees who have moved there from locations in Savage and Roseville.

That entailed "flip-flopping" the old layout in which private offices were arrayed along the outside walls next to windows, in effect trapping the natural light, while employee workstations were relegated to the interior spaces and thus dependent on overhead lighting fixtures. 

A tour revealed that under the new design, sunlight floods into the overall space, while the private offices have been moved closer to the building's central core -- they have glass walls so they, too, can benefit from the natural light. The result is a 5 percent reduction of energy used for lighting.

Another big consideration was installation of low-flow plumbing fixtures that have cut the building's water usage by 30 percent. 

The company also got LEED points for reusing as much of the building materials from the Department 56 era as was practical. Some of the original tile flooring and ceiling grids were retained and incorporated in the new layout.

Gill said the building's close proximity to the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line and its planned City West station would have helped bump up its LEED designation further from "silver" to "gold," but because the line has yet to be funded, the company for now has missed out on that opportunity.

Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul.

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