City Government and McKinneys and Energy & Environment and Environment and Philanthropy

City's environmental effort gets boost

January 19, 2009
The city's Republican administration is getting green from a prominent Democratic family to support an environmental initiative ranging from energy-efficient city buildings to bicycle paths.

The McKinney Family Foundation has created a fund to support initiatives of Mayor Greg Ballard's 3-month-old Office of Sustainability.

The McKinney family, led by former First Indiana Bank head Robert H. McKinney, requested that the amount of money to be devoted to the new McKinney Family Green Initiatives Fund not be disclosed until it begins specific allocations for the city's green projects, said Karen Haley, director of the Office of Sustainability.

"It's a whole lot" of money, said Haley, whose office of four, full-time staffers operates on an annual budget of $234,000.

To the extent the gift helps the city embark on more environmental demonstration projects, contracting opportunities could grow for area businesses that provide materials, construction and consulting services.

The McKinneys have long supported environmental causes.

Recently, they donated $200,000 to the Hoosier Environmental Council Foundation and pledged to match gifts to HEC through 2010, for total potential support of $400,000.

McKinney was named by Ballard's predecessor, Bart Peterson, as chairman of the city's green commission. The commission, which still exists despite the change in administrations, was related to the Indy GreenPrint environmental initiative Peterson launched in 2007.

McKinney was chairman of First Indiana, which was sold in early 2008 to Wisconsin-based M&I Bank for $529 million. He's a founding partner of Indianapolis law firm Bose McKinney & Evans. His daughter, Marni, also led First Indiana. His son, Kevin, publishes the weekly newspaper Nuvo and serves on the board of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Kevin McKinney said the family is sensitive to city government's tight fiscal situation. "They're going to have to get private support for a lot of these projects," he said.

The Office of Sustainability last month had set up the "Sustainable Indy Fund" under the umbrella of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, in hopes of attracting financial support for future initiatives. For example, Ballard previously pedaled the need for more bike lanes and has an ambitious goal of 200 miles of lanes.

"We're talking with a few corporations and family foundations about also contributing to that" fund, Haley said.

Her office's underlying goal is to help the city reduce its long-term costs and to improve the environment. It has already helped put together requests for quotes to retrofit a number of old, energy-hogging city facilities to make them more efficient. The way such contracts usually are set up is that the vendor is paid only after the government entity achieves certain levels of savings.

One of the McKinney family's goals is for city government to have at least one of its buildings meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification requirements established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Such buildings must meet criteria in such areas as water- and energy-efficiency and environmental friendlessness of materials and design.

If there's one building Haley is eager to work on it is the high-profile City-County Building. Might, for example, the city build a rain garden in the plaza on the south side of the building? The plaza now is a vast quilt of raised planting areas and crumbling concrete that's continually being patched. A rain garden at the site could capture water runoff that now flows into sewers. The captured water could support enough plants and trees to cool the sunny south side of the building.

"I think there's a great case of how the city has to lead by example," she said.

The city office is also trying to take inventory of other sustainable projects around town and to catalog those examples on SustainIndy.org, a Web site it will launch this month.

A number of Web sites already highlight sustainable projects in Indianapolis, but there's nothing comprehensive available.

Haley said not until recently did she realize there were so many so-called green roofs downtown, for example. Nor did she realize the Hilton Garden Inn downtown has solar panels on the roof.

And how do you navigate the city bureaucracy to get a permit for such things?

"That's one of the things we have the capability to put on the Web site," Haley said. "We're designing it to be a one-stop shop."

The city might be onto something, said Kristina Tridico, a partner at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller who guides clients on environmental matters.

One problem now for firms contemplating a project is, "Where can I see a project?" she said.

"The more local examples we have here shows it can be done in central Indiana. Really, a clearinghouse of information would be beneficial to the business community because things change so rapidly ... the area of sustainability is so broad."

Broad and, for the city, sometimes bumpy.

The first some might have heard about Haley's office came amid a controversy last month over the city's purchase of fleet vehicles.

With the blessing of Ballard, the city last month said it will buy 85 Toyota Camry hybrids, at $25,770 a pop.

The move drew immediate fire from Penske Chevrolet, which filed a bid to provide Chevrolet Malibu hybrids at $1,700 per vehicle less than the Toyotas.

The United Auto Workers also objected to the purchase of cars from a foreign company employing non-union workers.

City officials defended the purchase, saying the Camrys get better gas mileage and that the cost savings would more than offset the higher price of the Toyotas over the projected time of ownership.

"What's good for the environment can be good for our bank account," Haley said.

She's hoping the city's efforts, besides saving taxpayers money, can provide some inspiration to the private sector and a place to gain insight on technical issues.

The city plans this spring to plant special vegetation and make other landscaping changes along Fall Creek near College Avenue. The changes are designed to capture water runoff and minimize erosion. The same sort of applications could be applied by commercial developers-permeable pavement rather than concrete, or "green roofs" instead of traditional materials, Haley said.
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