Managing A Megaproject: The Team Guiding BlackRock, Mastercard And NYCHA
The bigger the project, the bigger the risks. With millions of square feet at stake, a small delivery delay or hiccup in the permitting process can cascade across a whole development, dragging out timelines and pushing contractors and owners over budget.
With so many moving parts, it takes a seasoned project manager to organize each step in the right order, make sure that steps don’t get missed and identify points where projects could get derailed.
“When you’re dealing with a $2B project or a $5B project, every mistake is huge, and that can be overwhelming for clients,” said Richard Jantz, executive managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. “It’s not enough to hope that the person you put in charge is capable. A seasoned veteran knows where the cracks typically form and how to solve them far in advance.”
When he first joined Cushman & Wakefield in 2018, Jantz helped found a new team dedicated solely to managing some of the biggest developments in the country. Three years in, the Project & Development Services group has managed projects for owners ranging from Citi and Yahoo to Deloitte, NYCHA, the Simons Foundation and Nomura. On the west side of Manhattan, the PDS team is part of the team overseeing the construction of BlackRock’s new corporate headquarters at 50 Hudson Yards, where the global asset manager has leased 1M SF across 15 floors.
In megaprojects, much of the battle of project management is won by assembling the right team. With decades of experience overseeing contractors, architects, engineers, consultants and dozens of other building stakeholders, Jantz and his colleagues understand which partners to call in for which challenges. But part of being a good project manager is keeping up with the changing landscape of commercial real estate. Jantz credits much of the PDS group’s wide understanding of the industry to its diversity; more than 60% of Jantz's Tri-State area team are women or people of color.
Once the team has its marching orders, Jantz said, his main job is making sure that all the stakeholders are dedicated to the project and giving it the thought it needs every day.
“The most precious resource we have in this industry is attention,” Jantz said. “The main thing we do as project managers or owner’s representatives is to demand the appropriate attention. If you can’t force people to pay attention, things will start to slip through the cracks and you start to see delays and cost overruns.”
Jantz recalled the time when he and his team were brought in to peer review a major infrastructure overhaul for a national bank's campus in Delaware. The renovation had been in the works for nearly five years without much progress, and the budget had ballooned from $20M to almost $40M in scope.
The PDS team brought in an outside engineer to deconstruct the project plans. The engineer was able to provide a 22-month schedule and projected a savings of 25% on the budget, Jantz said. The client's team implemented the plan, and despite the coronavirus pandemic, the project is now on schedule.
Assembling the right team saved more than just the project. The peer review highlighted a significant infrastructure delay: a set of old chiller units were reaching the end of their useful lives and needed to be upgraded to support multiple critical systems. It was fortunate that the new team was able to put an aggressive upgrade plan in place, because if one of the old chillers had failed, it could have ruined tens of millions of dollars’ worth of sensitive IT equipment.
“You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and dig in to even the tiniest details,” Jantz said. “And then you often have to pivot to the latest challenge. Every conversation starts with ‘How the heck are we going to solve that?’”
During the construction of CNN’s New York newsroom, Jantz said, the company revealed that it needed an array of satellite broadcasting dishes at the top of the tower. His team spent hundreds of hours adjusting the facade plans, making sure that the company could string wires 30 floors up from the newsroom to the roof and coordinating with electricians to ensure the schedule wasn’t affected.
The most fun part of project management for Jantz is solving mechanical and architectural challenges that haven’t been addressed before. As his team was overseeing the construction of the Mastercard Technology Hub in Manhattan, a challenge emerged: how to build a set of immersive audiovisual booths that could be wheeled across various parts of the office for demonstrations and tours, then wheeled away just as easily. The resulting tech “bubbles” are anticipated to be a major feature when the hub opens later this year, Jantz said.
When the pandemic set in, the PDS team was part of a group of advisers that helped the NYC Department of Buildings and the New York Governor's Office decide how to effectively shut down certain job sites and reopen sites that were deemed essential based on social distancing and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health measures.
As the economy revs back up, large-scale construction projects are kicking back off. Renovation and repositioning projects are especially common, especially as corporate tenants rethink how to best use the space in their offices and building owners make health and safety upgrades like HVAC systems or touchless technologies.
But even on the most massive of projects, construction and development still looks essentially the same.
“No matter how sophisticated you are as an owner, your building is still being built by thousands of people with hardhats and hammers swinging away,” Jantz said. “Being able to negotiate the agendas and the personalities in the field is the only way to get it done.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Cushman & Wakefield Project & Development Services and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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