Mountain Hardwear officially inaugurates cool new digs with community open house - SNEWS

Mountain Hardwear officially inaugurates cool new digs with community open house

On April 8, Mountain Hardwear officially proclaimed its new Richmond, Calif., headquarters open with a community celebration and open house.
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On April 8, Mountain Hardwear officially proclaimed its new Richmond, Calif., headquarters open with a community celebration and open house.

The company's new home is in the newly renovated historic Ford Point building at 1414 Harbour Way South. Designed by architect Albert Kahn in 1930, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will host the visitor/education center and bookstore for the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/rori). To read more about the park and view a photo of the building from the San Francisco Bay, click here.

SNEWS® was on hand for the festivities and, quite frankly, we were amazed at the facility and the San Francisco Bay frontage location, as well as the work the Mountain Hardwear team had done to be as sensitive to the environment and employee health as possible.

Mountain Hardwear was the final tenant to sign on the dotted line, inking a 10-year lease for 77,700 square feet of the 517,000-square-foot building. Mountain Hardwear's landlord is Orton Development. It acquired the former Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in 2004 and began a massive renovation project on the building, which had sat vacant since the 1950s. The renovation effort was completed with multimillion-dollar support from city, federal and private investment funds. Orton Development, which is well regarded in the Bay Area for taking on large-scale renovation and repurposing projects, garnered a Rehabilitation Project of the Year award from the San Francisco Business Times in 2007, a recognition of the quality and scope of the job.

Although the building is stunning, the location does present certain logistical challenges. While a few miles away from the nearest BART station, the rough edge of the neighborhood is not exactly one that many would feel totally comfortable walking through. So, Mountain Hardwear provides morning and evening shuttles from the train station for free to its employees who use mass transit. The company also provides a fleet of bikes for employees to use anytime they need to get to and from the BART station, ride home, run errands or simply pedal along the Bay Trail, which is adjacent to the plant.

In the next month or so, we were told, a dock will be completed that Mountain Hardwear employees can use for kayak access to the San Francisco Bay. James Bottoms, director of operations for Mountain Hardwear who also oversaw the design and construction of the new headquarters, told attendees at the open house he's planning to commute to work by kayak from his nearby Richmond home.

Freeway access isn't the easiest either, and there are few restaurants and shopping centers nearby. So again, Mountain Hardwear has incorporated an employee dining area and kitchen, making it more pleasant to stay on site for lunch.

What one notices almost immediately upon entering the new Mountain Hardwear facility is that many of the interior work areas of the building are flooded with an enviable amount of natural light via an impressive array of skylights -- a hallmark design feature from architect Kahn and one that allows Mountain Hardwear to rely far less on artificial lighting. Both the employee recreation room, which includes a custom-built climbing wall and a ping-pong table, and the kitchen feature mostly glass exterior walls.

On our walking tour of the facility, company CEO Mike Wallenfels told SNEWS® that in addition to all the natural light, 100 percent of the company's annual electrical needs are being supplied by an on-site solar power. It helps, he said, that Mountain Hardwear's neighbor tenant is SunPower (www.sunpowercorp.com), which designs, manufactures and delivers solar electric technology worldwide. The building's lights are on solar sensors and only activate if the natural light is insufficient. All offices and meeting rooms that do not have available natural light have motion detectors to turn off the lighting when the rooms are not in use.

Underfoot, the carpet from Earth Weave Carpet Mills (www.earthweave.com) is 100-percent natural, nontoxic, dye free and bio-degradable, we were told. Other flooring materials are made of either bamboo or tiles made from recycled tires. The ventilation system is designed to make use of the cool Bay air during summer months in an effort to greatly reduce reliance on air conditioning and, as a result, dramatically reduce energy use.

Wandering through the office complex, the workspaces are also noteworthy. They have an open and clean design, and many are in close proximity to walls of glass, outside light and views. Wallenfels told us that the company partnered with workspace furniture manufacturer Teknion (www.teknion.com). Teknion received a 2007 GLOBE Award for environmental excellence and provided Mountain Hardwear employees with furniture that is PVC free. Bottoms told us that any furniture that was not being used from its old offices was being repurposed and kept out of the waste stream by www.iresue.com.

Perhaps one of the more impressive sections of the company headquarters, though, lies on the second floor along the corridor housing the executive offices suite. Original to the Ford Motor Company plant, the wood frame offices that housed executives in the 1930s had to be maintained in their original appearance due to the historical designation of the building. So, Mountain Hardwear hired master carpenters to repair broken parts and recreate any missing bits and pieces to match the 1930s décor.

One change was allowed, according to Wallenfels, where the law and history collided. Noting that there were no female executives back in the 1930s, there was only an executive washroom for the men, done in marble. Mountain Hardwear had to build a women's bathroom where there once was none -- sans the marble, though, we were told.

SNEWS® View: Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia, parent company of Mountain Hardwear since 2003, stated in his brief speech at the grand opening ceremonies that the Mountain Hardwear brand would reach $100 million in sales in 2008. So it seems appropriate that a grand sales achievement and a company that is continuing to grow find recognition in a remarkable new home. This is truly one of those buildings you have to see to appreciate, and it is amazing. It appears no expenditure of resources or funds were spared when it came to ensuring employee well-being and demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability. Heck, if our headquarters were not on a five-acre plot of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills, which is currently carpeted with spring wildflowers, with a year-round stream and nearby waterfall a short stroll from our office door, we might start having justifiable workplace envy. Nice job, Mountain Hardwear team!

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