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David Smith, a Former Biologist and General Manager for the
Element by Westin, Las Vegas, Going for Green

By Hubble Smith, Las Vegas Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 28, 2010--David Smith took the job as general manager of the 123-room Element by Westin hotel in Las Vegas specifically to pursue LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

It's the first time in his 25-year hotel management career that he's had such an opportunity.

From recycled building materials to conservation of natural resources, the boutique hotel near the Las Vegas Beltway and Town Center Drive serves as a cutting-edge model for where the hospitality industry is headed, Smith said Tuesday during a walk-through of the hotel.

"This was comprehensive. It was the whole concept that interested me," the former biologist said.

Element has applied for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification based on a points system established by the Washington, D.C.-based Green Building Council.

The process is expected to take about three months, Smith said. Everything that went into "green building" has to be documented. A consulting firm has been hired to assist with registering, monitoring and measuring green components.

The $25 million hotel, developed by Jeff LaPour of Las Vegas-based LaPour Cos., opened in December 2008 and took about a year to reach the minimum 50 percent occupancy required for LEED certification. It's only the third Element by Westin in the country; the others are in New Jersey and Maryland.

Smith said occupancy has climbed to about 65 percent since January, with average weekday room rates around $120 and weekend rates around $110. The Element is business-oriented and commands a higher rate during the week, he said.

Environmentally friendly features of the hotel include flooring in the rooms that's a mix of recycled rubber and vinyl, recycled carpeting and low volatile organic compound paints and adhesives that produce minimal emissions.

All rooms have showers only -- no bathtubs to fill -- with aerator fixtures that restrict water flow, but still give guests a comfortable amount of water pressure, the general manager said. Along with water-smart landscaping, the hotel is expected to reduce water consumption by 1 million gallons a year.

To conserve electricity, the hotel uses Energy Star-rated appliances, oversized heat-resistant windows in the rooms, natural lighting in the lobby and a motion-detection system that automatically shuts off the lights in the fitness room when guests leave.

The heating system is set at a little lower point in the winter and air conditioner a little higher in the summer, though guests can adjust the temperature in each room, Smith said.

Housekeepers are instructed to separate recyclable trash left in the rooms and recycling bins can be found in the lobby.

"The plan was to be green from the ground up," said LaPour, who also developed the 70,000-square-foot, LEED-certified LaPour Corporate Center near the beltway and Russell Road. "Westin made a commitment to be green to go through the (LEED) system. We want to get the message out because it's important. There's only a couple of green hotels, CityCenter and Palazzo."

Smith said people are asking if Element is LEED-certified when they negotiate group room rates, something he's never seen in 25 years in the business. Saying a building is green and proving it are two different things, he said.

"Everybody's doing that from a marketing standpoint, so the U.S. Green Building Council is the teeth to make sure it's on the up and up," the hotel manager said.

Smith said the hotel gets new business from researchers at the nearby Nevada Cancer Institute, along with families of patients. A lot of soccer groups come in on the weekends, he said.

"What sells is breakfast for the family. You don't pay for parking. Free Internet. In New York, it's $15 a night for Internet, breakfast is $40. It's $40 to park in San Francisco. This takes the mess out of it," Smith said.

The hotel also has the only ChargePoint electric car charging station that shows up on Google maps of Nevada, he said.

Smith said tax credits for green building are available at the federal, local and state levels, but he couldn't give a definitive answer on the amount. The U.S. Green Building Council advised the developer to look into local tax credits through NV Energy, he said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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