ANNA MARIA -- Two British transplants with an idea to preserve history and the environment have put Anna Maria Island at the center of the nation's green movement.
On a section of Pine Avenue near Anna Maria's City Pier, British entrepreneurs Lizzie Vann and Mike Thrasher have spent the past few years clustering five buildings that define energy efficiency. The Anna Maria Historic Green Village is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as LEED Platinum, the most stringently assessed category for green buildings. The village also generated as much energy as it consumed during its first 18 months of operation, and has used 90 percent less potable water than a standard commercial development.
In meeting these goals, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce named the Anna Maria Historic Green Village the Small Business of the Year in the green business category.
Rick Fedrizzi, founder and CEO of the U.S. Building Council, singled out the village when it was awarded its Platinum designation as being rare for meeting his organization's building standards and for achieving "net-zero" energy use. "The Historic Green Village is one of a handful of projects in the world to achieve both accomplishments," Fedrizzi said.
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The feat hasn't been cheap. Vann and Thrasher, who previously ran businesses in Great Britain including an organic baby food company, have invested $4.5 million in remodeling four century-old buildings. They have even moved endangered historic structures to the Pine Avenue property to be renovated to the highest standards of energy efficiency.
Now home to five businesses and two personal residences, the village provides jobs for 12 people. Combined, village businesses generate annual revenues of $1 million. For their part, Vann and Thrasher realize about $200,000 in rental income.
In 2011, the Village Cafe was the first business to open. Since then, others have joined the cafe, including AMI Outfitters, Hometown Desserts and Relish Cafe. The businesses and homes in the village operate almost entirely off electricity produced by solar roof panels installed on the buildings in the village. Buildings do draw some electricity from the local electrical utility at night.
Air conditioning in the buildings gets an additional boost from geothermal heating and cooling. Water drawn from 450 feet underground is used to cool AC units in the summer and heat buildings on colder days.
Other technology used in the village includes heat-reflecting roof material, windows that block heat-producing infrared radiation, super-insulated walls and LED lighting. Where hot water is required, the heat is provided by the sun. The village also encourages fossil-fuel-free transportation by providing an electric vehicle charging station next to the development's bicycle racks.
In qualifying for LEED Platinum status, Vann and Thrasher moved and reused two buildings that were scheduled for demolition. During the remodeling, non-toxic, locally sourced and recycled building materials were used wherever possible.
Vann and Thrasher say they hope to inspire others to use renewable energy and to think more about human impacts on the environment.
Matt M. Johnson, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.