Brookfield Bolsters Manhattan West Project with Overhaul of 33rd St. Office Space


BY SAM SPOKONY  |  Brookfield Office Properties will soon begin a $200 million renovation of 450 West 33rd Street — a move the company says will integrate the office building as an “important lynchpin” within its forthcoming, mixed-use Manhattan West development.

Work on the 16-story, 1.7 million-square-foot building ― which sits just east of 10th Avenue ― is set to begin this spring and is scheduled to be completed by summer 2016, according to Brookfield, which announced the plan on February 10.

The project features a striking exterior overhaul that will update the 44-year-old structure’s sloping sides with a unique, pleated glass facade. It also includes major upgrades to interior mechanical systems, an expansion of the building’s lobby and the construction of six new elevators in addition to the current 10.

Brookfield C.E.O. Dennis Friedrich said during the announcement event that, when the company first bought 450 West 33rd Street in 2011, he saw the building as a “diamond in the rough” within the rapidly transforming West Side.

“Now we’re excited to take it to the next level,” said Friedrich, stressing that the redevelopment will particularly enhance its intrinsic benefits for potential tenants. The building is already relatively unique, with extremely high ceilings ― which range from 14 to 27 feet ― and massive open floor areas that in some cases stretch more than 100,000 square feet.

Based on the new plans, vacant space within the wide tower ― which is currently home to the Associated Press and Gay Men’s Health Crisis ― is now attracting a lot of interest from major companies in the media, fashion and technology sectors, according to Brookfield. In particular, the tech firms seem interested in using the huge spaces as springboards for some outlandishly creative endeavors.

“We’ve had potential tenants look into putting in rock climbing walls, skateboard halfpipes and a running track,” said Jerry Larkin, Brookfield’s Senior VP of Leasing. “This building gives that kind of flexibility.”

Courtesy of Brookfield Office Properties Inside the revamped 450 W. 33rd St.: halfpipes and running tracks?
Courtesy of Brookfield Office Properties
Inside the revamped 450 W. 33rd St.: halfpipes and running tracks?

Regarding exterior work, the project’s lead architect explained that the new glass window facade, marked by its outward “kink,” will provide additional benefits in terms of both attractiveness and energy sustainability.

“It will give an enormous amount of natural daylight, without sacrificing the thermal capabilities of the facade,” said architect Joshua Prince-Remus, principal of REX. He added that, while his firm is based in New York City, this will be its first major project undertaken within the area.

Echoing the remarks of the Brookfield executives, Prince-Remus stated that his work will serve to highlight the distinctive qualities of the building’s office space, setting it apart from “more typical spaces” along the burgeoning West Side.

“It has the ability to provide much more creative, free-planned, support spaces as an adjunct to all of this,” he said of 450 West 33rd Street. “We think that’s a very important injection within an otherwise traditional high end development.”

Citing recently highlighted problems with other city buildings ― particularly 1 World Trade Center ― involving the formation of potentially dangerous ice on large facades, the architect explained that his team is developing new cleaning and heating infrastructure to accommodate the unusual window shape.

“The new techniques will guarantee that we don’t have those problems with sheeting of ice and snow,” he said.

Courtesy of Brookfield Office Properties An interior view shows off the pleated glass facade plan for 450 W. 33rd St.
Courtesy of Brookfield Office Properties
An interior view shows off the pleated glass facade plan for 450 W. 33rd St.

But above all, Prince-Remus stressed his belief that the developer is taking a very positive step by choosing to renovate the aging 450 West 33rd Street, rather than demolishing it and starting anew.

“The core of this, the single most important thing here is the commitment by Brookfield to take this very large building and give it a second life,” said the architect, adding he hopes this project alone will keep it going for another 50 to 100 years.

Brookfield executives also pointed out that, with integration in mind, the completed overhaul of the building will also leave it with a new name: 5 Manhattan West.

And they reminded attendees of the announcement that a key element of the overall Manhattan West development ― a $4.5 billion effort that will cover the five-acre span between West 31st and 33rd Streets, from Ninth Avenue to Dyer Avenue ― is already well underway.

In January 2013, the developer began construction on a three-acre platform that will eventually allow it to begin building out the entire Manhattan West site, which is planned to include two 60-story commercial towers, a luxury residential tower, a hotel and 2.1 acres of new public space.

“We really put our money where our mouths were on that one, and we just got right underway,” Friedrich said at the February 10 event, referencing the start of work on the platform. “And just a few weeks ago, we [finished] the first span that’s going to make up the platform and support the whole project.”

With that recent milestone in mind, he added that work on the platform is actually “slightly ahead of schedule,” and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Based on that timeline, Brookfield plans to open the first office tower by 2016 ― a goal that, if met, would place the new development squarely in line with the completion of renovations to 450 West 33rd Street.

Swift completion of the platform would also see Brookfield rise relatively on pace alongside the massive new development on the other side of 10th Avenue ― namely, Related Companies’ Hudson Yards project, which is reportedly starting construction on its own 10-acre platform soon, and which hopes to complete its first, 52-story office tower by the end of 2015.

As of now, the entire Manhattan West project is estimated to be completed by 2020, according to Brookfield.

And regarding Brookfield’s planned public space within the development, its total acreage is actually a newly increased figure, up from an original plan of 1.5 acres.

Several days before its announcement regarding 450 West 33rd Street, Brookfield told Community Board 4 that it had applied for a zoning change ― which will ultimately have to be approved by the city ― to bump up the public space to 2.1 acres. The space ― comprising of a series of interconnected plazas ― is being designed by James Corner Field Operations, which also designed the walkway of the nearby High Line park.

“One of the things we’re very excited about is the opportunity to create a dramatic increase in open space for the neighborhood,” said Keith O’Connor, an associate partner with the James Corner firm (and who has previously worked for New York City’s Department of City Planning), at the aforementioned February 10 event. “And while this is going to be a series of open spaces that all have different sizes, spatial characteristics and amenities, it’s important to note that they’re all integrated in a singular way, under the overall plan.”

The three key elements of the space, according to his firm’s plan, are the Entry Plaza, a Central Plaza and an Art Plaza.

The Entry Plaza, facing Ninth Avenue, will be an “animated, active space to welcome visitors,” featuring lush trees, as well as seating areas with some tables, O’Connor explained. The Central Plaza ― the main area which will fill more than an acre, or just over half the total space ― will extend from there, leading through the space between Manhattan West’s two 60-story office towers, featuring more greenery. That space will also include a stage area for concerts and other performances, as well as a retail pavilion spanning around 100 feet wide.

He further explained that the Art Plaza, planned for the corner of Ninth Avenue and West 31st Street, will be deliberately designed with a more flexibly open area in order to accommodate, unsurprisingly, one or more large works of art.

“There will be the opportunity to place something really monumental there, a significant piece, such as a sculpture,” said O’Connor.

The installation of some particularly iconic piece of public art within Manhattan West could perhaps parallel ― or, on the other hand, rival ― a similar idea that’s already being planned just blocks away at Hudson Yards. Last October, it was announced that Related had hired renowned British artist Thomas Heatherwick to design a “new icon for the city,” as a centerpiece of Hudson Yards’ public plaza. Brookfield hasn’t made any such announcement for its own art space ― at least not yet.