Draper, Utah will be the home of the state’s first mass timber-constructed commercial building.

The five-story Baltic Pointe building will be the new home of Pelion Venture Partners and the office furniture firm HB Workplaces. The project is led by Gardner Group, a Utah commercial real estate firm with hundreds of construction sites throughout the West. This is the first time they’re using mass timber. 

“Traditionally, multi-story buildings have used steel and concrete flooring,” says Tracy Harden, a marketing communications consultant for Gardner Group. “Both of those industries are very carbon-intensive. Together, they contribute [up] to 11 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”

Harden says those emission numbers drove the decision to trailblaze mass timber construction in the state. “For someone like Christian Gardner, who really wants to take the lead in sustainable building in the commercial sector, mass timber is the obvious alternative building material,” she explains.

Creating wonder out of waste

Building with mass timber means utilizing what is often dismissed as “waste wood” or scraps of various types of trees. The pieces are glued together to create the materials used in construction. The result is a building that acts like a tree—because it is. Mass timber buildings can sequester carbon and convert it into oxygen, bringing that 11 percent to near zero. 

Liza Hart, senior development manager and VP of design and sustainability at Gardner Group, says these mass timber buildings also have fire-protective qualities that surpass even steel and concrete. “Fireproof spray has to be applied to other materials,” she says. “But wood develops a char on the outermost layer … [keeping] the rest of the wood intact.”

Baltic Pointe interior
Image courtesy of Method Studio.

Beauty is yet another major benefit, Harden says.

“Biophilic design principles say that if you bring … more natural elements into your living space, productivity, concentration and overall physical and mental health will improve,” she says. By using mass timber, Baltic Pointe—with its wooden interiors and mountain views—aligns with biophilic design.

“The hope was that we have an asset that’s more marketable, will attract better tenants and retain them longer,” Hart says. “In a market where offices are struggling, we believe our mass timber interior will help as a market differentiator.”

A sustainable pathway

Still, despite the long list of benefits, sustainable building may be far from mass adoption.

“[Mass timber] is a new material [in Utah],” Harden says. “Until this project, we didn’t know—could we build a commercial building? There were many upfront costs to [learning] if mass timber would be economically viable.”

Gardner Baltic Pointe exterior
Image courtesy of Method Studio

Hart says some of the holdup was institutional.

“After the Industrial Revolution, once we went to steel and concrete for commercial buildings, we just stopped using mass timber,” she says. “Building codes forgot about the material and stopped studying it. Our codes had to catch up again with the building science.”

Gardner Group hopes Baltic Pointe will showcase what can happen when you build sustainably and that their leadership will be enough to tip the scales in favor of the environment.

“Everyone needs a leader,” Harden says. “We were the first adopter. We took the gamble on it and proved the viability.”

Since embarking on the Baltic Pointe project, the Inflation Reduction Act introduced new tax incentives for embodied carbon—defined by the Carbon Leadership Forum as “the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building materials.” Hart believes these tax benefits will play in mass timber’s favor.

“Incentives will help offset some of these upfront costs,” she says. “And we’ve seen a lot more green financing from banks, all of which will help to broaden adoption in the marketplace.”

In the meantime, Gardner Group continues to add to its wish list of mass timber projects.

“Most apartments and homes are ‘stick builds,’ which means they’re already built from wood,” Hart says. “But we’d love to use mass timber on a high-rise multi-family building or other commercial projects. Those are the things we’re working toward.” 

Connect with one of our experts to discuss how your building can help achieve your company’s ESG milestones.