Vanguard Award Top Project: Manhattan's Newest Crown Jewel

Nov. 12, 2021
Nearly a decade in the making, the new mixed-use Manhattan West is a testament to collaboration and innovation, and is the 2021 Security Vanguard Project of the Year

This article also appears as the cover story in the November 2021 issue of Security Business magazine

Like so many business and industrial districts in large cities across the United States, the Far West Side of Manhattan is in the midst of a massive redevelopment renaissance. The district, which has traditionally been defined by bustling railways, includes the Javits Convention Center, Madison Square Garden, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Lincoln Tunnel and Penn Station.

Rising above this area – in fact, quite literally built atop some of those bustling rail yards – is a new testament to redevelopment: A new mixed-use development that includes five buildings, a 1.5-acre public park, a high-end retail mall, train station extension and more. Called “Manhattan West,” the construction and development project was spearheaded by Brookfield Properties and began nearly a decade ago.

“When complete, Manhattan West will have transformed a blighted, underutilized area into a dynamic urban neighborhood,” Brookfield explains on its website. “The site is a showcase for our placemaking ethos, with more than 7 million square feet of state-of-the-art office space, luxury apartments, a boutique hotel, carefully curated retail and restaurants, and two acres of thoughtfully designed open space.”

As construction – expected to be totally complete by May 2023 – rolls on, Manhattan West officially opened to the public in September. Brookfield broke ground on this project in 2013, and shortly thereafter was joined by security integration company Unlimited Technology Inc., as well as consultants from Ross & Baruzzini.

This dynamic team – which includes integrator, consultant as well as Henry Caso, Brookfield’s SVP of Manhattan West Construction, and recent addition Bill Wikstrom as Brookfield’s VP of New York Security – has built Manhattan West’s solid security foundation, literally from the ground up. For this long stretch of excellence in design and implementation, the Manhattan West team has been named the recipient of the 2021 Security Vanguard Award for the most dynamic and innovative security project of the year.

A 10-Year Vision Takes Shape

The West Side of Manhattan has long been a target for redevelopment; in fact, such plans have existed for years, but Brookfield Properties’ mixed-use development has clearly taken center stage as the area transforms. Interestingly, after the project broke ground in 2013, Caso and the Brookfield team needed to figure out how to build atop the many rail lines feeding into neighboring Penn Station.

“Manhattan West started with building a platform over the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit trains run through,” Caso explains. “It was a 250-foot open cut in the earth, and you could see the trains below when we got started. One of the first things we needed to do was to protect and cover that artery to the city’s mass transportation. We built 16 pre-cast post-tensioned bridges over the railroad to cover the open cut in the earth, which were grafted together to cover over the railroad and set the stage for development and construction of the buildings that would follow.”

Caso and Brookfield worked closely with Amtrak security, Long Island Railroad security, the New York City Police Department, as well as the Department of Homeland Security to develop and execute on the plans that would secure the critical transportation site as construction moved forward.

Of course, critical security like this is not a new thing for a huge developer like Brookfield; in fact, Caso helped oversee construction at Brookfield Place, a similar mixed-use development that stands today at what was the epicenter of the 9/11 attacks. Prior to joining Brookfield in 2007, Caso played a pivotal role in the construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. 

Not only will Manhattan West change the landscape of the area, Caso and Brookfield aimed to improve it. The developer expects to achieve LEED Gold certification for enhanced energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other innovative green technologies for all buildings.

“When you are approaching LEED, the analysis starts even before you know what you are building,” Caso says. “It is in the DNA of everything that is put into place from its conception. Brookfield’s approach is to continue to be to be green – whether it is state-of-the-art building management systems, the selection of the equipment, Energy Star ratings – every single piece of equipment that has a motor or uses some type of power is carefully analyzed to make sure it is compatible with our desire to be energy efficient.”

All of these development and environmental goals meant the project needed specialized and dedicated teams when it came to security and safety planning.

An Integrator Grows with the Project

As the Manhattan West buildings continued to grow, so too did the project’s primary security systems integrator, Unlimited Technology – a company from humble beginnings that launched as a locksmith in Chester Springs, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.

John Palumbo bought into the company with David Fernandez in 2010, aiming to expand the company, which was narrowly focused on a handful of major national critical infrastructure clients at the time. Just a year or so into his tenure as company president, Palumbo zeroed in on the Manhattan West project as a means for achieving his goal for expanding the business.

“For an organization like Brookfield, when you are venturing on a critical project, you want to make sure to work with individuals and organizations that have a track record, that are financially stable, and that you know can execute the work without problems or hiccups,” Caso says. “We created a very select list of individuals that we can trust to perform these activities for us. Unlimited was on the list, but they were somewhat untested at the time.”

Palumbo recalls those first meetings with Caso and the Brookfield team. “I will never forget Henry saying to us: ‘Hey, I like your story,’” Palumbo says. “Our growing business was like the [quintessential] American story, and he really did like that. He asked me if I would pick up my phone in the middle of the night when he called, and I just said, yeah – absolutely. It was one of our first big construction jobs, and we knew what they were going to do with the site, but there we were, looking down at a pit of train tracks…it was hard to imagine what it was going to become.

“What I wanted to do was land [the job] and then expand it – which is our model for a lot of different clients: Let us get in and do one job for you, and we will prove that we can do a phenomenal project,” Palumbo adds.

Palumbo’s tactic worked. They landed that first job during the construction above the train tracks and have managed to win project after project since then, as each building was built at Manhattan West (or retrofit, in the case of Five Manhattan West, a building that has stood since 1969).  

“They might not have had a track record at the time, but they made up for it with regards to the attention that they [gave us] and by laying out a very comprehensive plan on how they would execute the work,” Caso says. “We could immediately tell that we were going to get the attention that we needed, and that was really the beginning of the relationship with Unlimited. Obviously, they have been instrumental moving forward and tying together the various pieces of Manhattan West as we continue to develop the site.”

While only a couple hours from Unlimited’s home office in Pennsylvania, the Manhattan West site required the integrator to establish offices and a team on site at all times.

“Maybe at that point we were 35 people, but we created an office that is right there at the site, and our Fusion Center is housed out of that location,” explains Palumbo, referring to the company’s full-service technology-enabled global service center that integrates technology, services, people and data in real-time. “Brookfield wants us there. They like to take a walk right upstairs in one of their buildings and say hello to our project manager, Shaun [Ortiz], or to our IT team, because they feel like that’s the kind of relationship that they have with us.”

Caso says that Unlimited has always had a seat at the planning table. “They have been invited to provide bids and tenders on every piece of the project that we have put out,” he says. “They have always been competitive with regards to their [bids], and they really provide an excellent team that we can rely on.”

A Security Strategy that Stands the Test of Time

Building a future-proof security technology strategy for such a long and ongoing project can obviously be challenging; after all, the technology options available when the project broke ground in 2013 have clearly been evolving and improving over time.

“We worked with Brookfield all the way from the beginning as the master planning process unfolded, and we helped them develop an overall security strategy for the site,” explains Brian Coulombe, Principal and Director of Operations for the project’s primary security consultant, Ross & Baruzzini. “I have done a lot of these multi-building commercial projects, where each of the buildings ends up as sort of its own security silo; but Brookfield, to their credit, was really forward-thinking in trying to figure out how to manage this more as a campus rather than individual buildings.”

Coulombe and the consulting team worked closely with Brookfield and architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to come up with a strategy to tie all the buildings together with one campus security operations center and a backup.

“It is one centralized system that is distributed and can be tailored to each building, but it is also able to be managed as a campus,” Coulombe explains. “Brookfield has a very competent security department, and they agreed right away that they wanted to manage this as a campus for a number of reasons – one being they wanted to have flexibility so each building could theoretically stand alone if it needed to.”

Once they crafted the overall strategy, it was the job of the Unlimited team to implement the system. The entire site is tied together using a Software House Access Control software platform combined with a Genetec Video Management System.

On the ground, the site leverages a blend of video surveillance cameras, including models from Axis Communications, Hanwha Techwin and Arecont Costar. Access control is achieved using wireless locks from Salto and Allegion, as well as optical turnstiles from Gunnebo, and IP intercoms from Commend. The whole system is tied together using miles of Unlimited-installed fiber and CAT 6 cabling, as well as Cisco switches and firewalls for the buildings’ networks. It all feeds into the SOCs, which are fitted with an array of Planar monitors on a Barco video wall.

“To date, we have more than 1,600 card readers and 800-plus cameras, and it is all integrated together,” explains Seth Wallach, Unlimited’s on-site Sales Manager for the Manhattan West project. “Everything works together as one large system with complete visibility in the in the SOC for people to operate efficiently.”

This eye on a future-proof foundation has already proved beneficial, as Wallach reports that visitor management and access control systems were easily enhanced with touch-free technologies in response to the COVID threat. 

Stakeholders Galore

By its very nature, a multi-use complex that includes residential, hotel, office buildings, retail spaces and open areas – all with critical transportation infrastructure underneath – requires flexibility on the part of everyone involved. This means Brookfield’s team, as well as the security contractors, must work closely with the security teams from a variety of disciplines.

It also meant that Brookfield needed someone who could oversee it all well beyond the construction stage. In November 2020, the company brought on Bill Wikstrom as VP of Security for all of Brookfield’s New York buildings. Previously, Wikstrom served for 22 years with the FBI based in the New York area.

“Prior to the FBI, I graduated with an architectural engineering degree and spent 15 years in the design/construction and project management trades industry – so joining Brookfield really brings my two worlds together,” Wikstrom says.

Wikstrom, as well as Caso, the Unlimited team, and the consultants were faced with a conundrum: How to create a campus-style security framework that can work with the various other security strategies, technologies and software that will be introduced into the campus by its tenants.

Manhattan West is already the home to several high-profile tenants, serving as the New York base of operations for Ernst & Young; as well as the headquarters of the National Hockey League. Beyond the commercial office tenants, there are, of course, multiple retailers, including Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Peloton. Don’t forget Amtrak and Penn Station as well.

“From a security and a safety standpoint, we have worked very closely with [tenants] to integrate their security needs with our security needs,” Caso says. “It hasn’t always been easy, because they have their own systems that they want to be able to use, and they are not always easily compatible to the systems and the hardware that we have put in place. But one thing Brookfield does exceptionally well is partner – with our vendors and with our end-users – and work through it. Organizations like Unlimited have really helped us make sure that we can seamlessly create an experience for the users despite the many platforms they may prefer.”

To work with these different stakeholders, Wikstrom says there is an individual security director embedded in each facility. Brookfield leverages New York-based Mulligan Security to provide these security directors, as well as uniformed protective services.  

“We have regular interaction with our security directors, and quarterly meetings with specific tenant [security teams] to make sure that we understand the concerns and the issues that they are confronting,” Wikstrom explains.

The Next Step

Construction of Two Manhattan West – the second of the office skyscrapers in the complex – rolls on toward 935 feet and 58 stories, which would make it one of the tallest buildings on the Manhattan skyline. Caso says construction will be complete in 2023, making it literally a decade-long construction project.

If there have been any lessons learned for all of the security stakeholders, it is to stay nimble, available and open to change.   

“As far as improvements, we are always looking to utilize technology to benefit the surrounding area of the complex itself, but we have a lot of good partnerships with other [stakeholders] related to Hudson Yards,” Wikstrom says. “We want to make sure that we are protecting the area as a whole, and that truly enhances our ability to respond and react to any potential threat.”

For Palumbo and Unlimited Technology, Manhattan West will always be part of their security strategy.  “What the project with Brookfield has taught us is that being sticky with our client is very valuable,” Palumbo says. “Being a trusted advisor for them, we have learned that we are not just a card reader and camera company – we are a technology-driven business. I am actually looking across the city right now at [Manhattan West] through my 35th floor window, and it is amazing to see. We have grown to 175 people today, and looking at that site, it is certainly one of the major reasons why.”

Read about the other Vanguard Award honorable mention projects at