In the late 1990s former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy proposed razing 64 historic buildings to make way for an open-air mall as part of a plan to revitalize the city’s ailing downtown retail district. But Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation, had other ideas. “We believed restored historic buildings would be more attractive to people than the suburban-style endeavor he was proposing,” says Ziegler, whose organization waged a battle that successfully thwarted Murphy’s demolition plan.

Shortly after the mayor lost his attempt to bring big-box retailing to downtown, Ziegler’s foundation paid $260,000 for three buildings to kick-start what it hoped would be a strong revitalization movement.

The centerpiece of the plan was Market at Fifth, a mixed-use project designed to bring high-end retail back to downtown while answering the need for more quality urban living space—in this case seven apartments. According to Ziegler, the three deteriorating buildings had been used for a variety of retail endeavors in the past but were in such bad repair they had been vacant for several years. The basic plan was to house shops in two of the structures and remodel one building for residential.

The heavy subsidies needed to attain the results he envisioned didn’t stop him from upping the ante and announcing the foundation’s intent to seek LEED for New Construction Gold certification. “We wanted to establish a model for the best of preservation by meeting the highest standards that could be applied to a historic building today, and that meant the National Register for restoration and architecture, and LEED for materials and systems,” he says.

The somewhat unprecedented decision—to date only a handful of historic developments in the country have attained LEED-certified status—required a team to make it happen. Past experience in preservation made LDA Architects a good choice for navigating the government standards necessary to garner historic tax credits, and architect Tom Stevenson immediately grasped the overlapping point possibilities. “Doing things like maintaining 75% of the roof, walls, and floor structure, and reusing existing materials equaled points for both tax credits and LEED,” he notes.

Still, his firm opted to bring in Andrew Ellsworth, a LEED consultant, to assist with the finer aspects of certification. “This was not a typical situation—mixed use isn’t even technically a category,” says Ellsworth, noting that one of the biggest challenges was trying to plug a reuse project into the New Construction scoring framework that was geared toward office buildings. “It was difficult to interpret for a residential setting but everyone was determined to meet the challenge of implementing green in a historic setting.”