Landscape of the Month: DeSantis Landscapes Takes a Sports Complex to the Next LEED Level

When an already-sustainable sports and entertainment complex was looking to up their game even more, they turned to DeSantis Landscapes to get the job done. The Moda Center at the Rose Quarter, a 30-acre campus and home to the Portland Trail Blazers, had been improving their sustainability efforts across the board, having earned their first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in 2010, becoming the first sports complex in the world to be LEED Gold certified.

They wanted to continue to improve the arena, including a landscape renovation. In 2014, when they met with Dean DeSantis, president of DeSantis Landscapes, they wanted to make sure the company’s values aligned with their own.

“They wanted to know what we value as a company and what we focus on, and sustainability was one of the top things,” DeSantis says. “So, our contact there put me in touch with their VP of sustainability at the time, and we started talking about what we could do with the landscape.”

The existing landscape was rather conventional, without special attention to sustainability efforts and environmentally friendly practices.

“The VP of sustainability went on to found the Green Sports Alliance, which is now a global organization that helps sports teams and arenas clean up their operations. So he was a real catalyst for all of this,” DeSantis says. “When we met, he saw a real opportunity to focus on landscape operations. When we talked about what we do with landscapes, that’s really where he was trying to take the organization, so it was a great fit.”

DeSantis Landscapes
Location: Salem, Ore.
Year founded: 1974
Client mix: 70% commercial / 30% residential
Service mix: 60% maintenance / 40% construction

Moda Center Sports Complex: The Vision

The Moda Center didn’t have specific requests other than making the landscape more sustainable. A two-way conversation began, in which they trusted DeSantis Landscapes to provide recommendations on reducing pesticides and waste, introducing sustainable elements to the landscape, and providing a full-campus landscape renovation of the entire Rose Quarter, which included the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

sports arena

GreenWorks, a local landscape architect company known for their sustainability focus, took the lead on design, while DeSantis Landscape did all of the build and installation, led by team members Laura House and Ernesto Hernandez. They aimed to bring in more native plants, more drought-tolerant plants, fewer annuals and more perennials throughout the landscape.

Moda Center Sports Complex: The Challenges

Aside from the enormity of renovating a large urban campus, the project itself included several major and minor challenges. Several of the existing planting beds were large basins over parking garages that had a tendency to leak.

sports complex
Photo: Jonathan House

“We basically had to take all the plant material, all the irrigation, all the soil out,” DeSantis says. “A waterproofing contractor came in to redo the waterproofing around there. So, it got quite complicated and drawn out in that regard.”

The parking garages had weight restrictions from a structural engineering standpoint, so special consideration had to be given to the types of trucks used and the amount of soil brought up. In addition, almost all of the plantings were in raised beds, rather than ground level. The existing raised beds had utility cables and other obstacles intermixed within them.

There was also a complex ownership model that proved to be challenging in some regards. The city of Portland owned the land that the Rose Quarter is on, while Vulcan Inc., Paul Allen’s company that owns the Trail Blazers, owns the Moda Center building and footprint. There were challenges in terms of approvals and who was funding what aspects of the project, leading to a longer process.

In addition to that, there were about 300 events per year happening at the complex, so the DeSantis Landscapes team had to work around the event schedule.

“That made it pretty tricky, where we had to be cleaned up and make sure that areas were safe for heavy foot traffic going by these places,” DeSantis says. “That definitely made it more complicated.”

Moda Center Sports Complex: The Solutions

DeSantis Landscapes paid special attention to the types of plants they used and their own operations to maintain a pesticide-free complex. They converted a traffic triangle area to a Fleur de Lawn, which is a local meadow grass that creates a pollinator habitat. It’s only mowed once every two weeks, cutting down on emissions and fuel-usage while only requiring about half the water that a typical turf would need.

Photo: Jonathan House

Reducing waste was also a huge focus for the team. One of the ways they accomplish that is to take all of the leaf debris, run it through a debris loader, chop them up and then reapply the debris behind the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in a large ivy bank.

“We put all that leaf debris on top of that ivy and just basically cover it up,” DeSantis said. “The ivy continues to grow through it and doing its thing, but we don’t take any of those leaf debris off-site.”

DeSantis Landscapes also uses battery-operated equipment whenever possible to reduce emissions in their pruning, blowing, and hedge-trimming operations. They do not bring glass clippings off-site, and they’re using organic fertilizers for the plants.

But DeSantis stresses that his team is only part of the huge effort at the Rose Quarter to continue the sustainability effort. The food waste that is produced during events is composted into soil that is then used by the DeSantis Landscapes team throughout the campus. Even the cutlery and utensils are made by a plant-sourced product line that can be composted. The Moda Center’s Environmental Services team goes through every bag of waste after each event to properly sort materials for reuse.  

Moda Center Sports Complex: The Results

Photo: Jonathan House

The LEED Gold certification in 2010 was just the beginning. Following DeSantis Landscape’s renovation, the Moda Center was re-certified LEED Gold in 2015 under stricter guidelines. Thanks to a continued focused effort on complex-wide sustainability efforts, the Moda Center was elevated to LEED O+M (v4.1) Platinum Certification in 2019, becoming the first professional sports arena to achieve this designation. The Platinum certification is the highest level of LEED certification, identifying and awarding best practices for a building’s energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience.

DeSantis Landscapes is now the official landscaper for the Portland Trail Blazers, operating a completely organic and highly sustainable campus.

This article was written by landscape industry freelance writer Heather Tunstall.

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