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Plaza Progress Report

Concierge Directs Three-Year Technology Overhaul of The Plaza Hotel has been a Resounding Success

If the fictional six-year-old Eloise ever returns to New York Citys Plaza Hotel, shes in for a big surprise. With the addition of a fully digital concierge system and complete audio/video packages from New Rochelles Concierge Direct, the capricious little hotel guest could now do a lot more than just make crank phone calls on an old rotary phone. With full-featured AMX touchpanels connected to parking garages, boutique-style shops, and high-end restaurants, Eloise could really run up her parents bill.

The biggest integration challenge for Concierge Direct was making AMX’s MDU solution work in a mixed-use property consisting of private residences and a hotel.

Back in Eloises day, the 100-year-old landmark was the symbol of high society New York City. A Kennedy married there, Beatles stayed there, and Capote and all of his friends partied there. Then as it began to show its age in recent years, it was bought by developer, Elad Properties, and closed for the past two and half years for a full renovation. Part of that overhaul of 181 residential units (private homes and hotel rooms) is a digital concierge system designed by AMX and its integration partner, Concierge Direct. Although there have been concierge systems in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) before, this one is as unique as New York City is from Miami, Florida.

The Luxury Approach
Since RS last reported on the Plaza Hotel project, Concierge Direct has fine-tuned its luxury MDU business approach and its relationships with key vendors, making it a truly unique approach for custom installation.

Instead of just designing and installing audio/video for residences or just the concierge or amenities infrastructure as an information system, we also go out and get service providersconcierge vendorsfor our clients, explained Nicholas DeClemente, the firms director of operations and chief system designer. We have consultants go out and establish relationships with the restaurants and other service providers to create a complete package. When we walk into a developer, its everything that they need.

Concierge Directs mission is to cater to the specialized tastes of wealthy New York area residents living in luxury high-rises. Founded by veteran systems integrator, Steve Babel, the company has been structured as a design and engineering firm, with relatively low overhead (less than 20 full-time employees), and relatively little heavy lifting. On the Plaza project and a similar one at the former Stanhope Hotel across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Babel and DeClemente eschew the usual A/V contractor approach, wherein groups of specialized employees handle audio/video, security, lighting, and heating and air conditioning portions of the project. Instead they send project managers with all of that hands-on experience to guide Local 3 union workers. They not only pull wire, but also install every single piece of the various systems at the Plaza and coordinate with other union labor on things like HVAC.

Concierge Direct’s mission is to cater to the specialized tastes of wealthy

DeClemente is often the face of the company, meeting one-on-one with a whos who of the rich and famous. And you will rarely catch him in the usual contractor attire of jeans and company golf shirt. Instead, DeClemente typically dresses to the nines in suit and tie, matching the classic dcor of the residences in which he works. He and Babel coordinate work with three project managers dedicated to the Plaza project.

From start to finish, Babel and DeClemente have managed the design process on the Plaza project as drawings and specifications bounced back and forth between clients, engineering firms, electricians, architects, and interior designers.

The biggest mistake to make is to go out and hire a staff, get 15 crews of two guys and 15 trucks, DeClemente said. It would work for now, but because of the development terms of these projects, youd go six or eight months when youre really not doing anything with a lot of staff to carry. So we designed the company as more of an electronic design company.

We do have guys on staff who can finish jobs. When push comes to shove, our guys will be the last to go through the residence, wiping the TVs down, making sure the speakers are positioned properly, and make sure the TVs are calibrated.

Additionally, Concierge Direct will place a 24-hour-a-day crew in the building to fulfill a 2.5-year service commitment after the project is complete at the end of 2007. Every time somebody calls our headquarters in New Rochelle, which is 25 minutes north of the city, were not going to have to jump in a car and fight traffic, pay tolls, and park in Manhattan, to make a service visit.

Coordination is the Key
The biggest integration challenge for Concierge Direct was making AMXs MDU solution work in a mixed-use property consisting of private residences and a hotel. For Concierge Direct and AMX, that meant integrating the Amenities Solution with the Plazas existing back-office applications, while also providing a streamlined, easy-to-use touchpanel interface for hotel guests and residents. AMX worked closely with Concierge Direct on nearly every aspect of the projectfrom initial discussions with the developerall the way to integration and implementation of the AMX Amenities Solution.

There were challenges along the way, but AMX executive vice president of business development, Scott Norder, has been pleased with the final outcome. To be involved with such an extensive and high-profile restoration project has been very rewarding, Norder said. Were extremely proud to be involved with a project not only of this size and scope but also of this historical significance. With our help, the Plaza is offering its residents and guests a lifestyle experience like no other available today.

Much like other amenities packages being installed in key MDU markets like Miami, Chicago, and Vancouver, services on the AMX touchpanel tie directly to building services. This one, however, is truly New York-centric. The panel features different amenities, like real-time local weather, airport transfers, pet sitting, wake up calls, e-mails throughout the building when the elevator is going to be down or the waters going to be off, but then it goes even further. Additionally, were linking the panel to restaurants that would be high-end New York staples and new hot places, and even some undiscovered gems, DeClemente pointed out.

Concierge Direct wanted to work only with products that had a track record for reliability.Theres also a button labeled, Info Center, which is a third-party billing service that will hold residences pertinent payment credit card information so that they may order a bottle of wine from the local liquor vendor or a gift from a boutique downstairs, then automatically receive a bill at the end of the month. Its all about enhancing these little lifestyle things that you take for granted, like pulling out cash or a credit card, DeClemente added.

The wireless touchpanel also features a video intercom, which can help residents identify guest or find out when their car to be delivered from their parking garage to the front of the building. Parking… Thats another uniquely New York City challenge, DeClemente explained. You go down to South Florida and some of the AMX products that are being installed there are in high-rise buildings that have their own garage and a valet right there, no problem, he said. This is a whole other ballgame. The Plaza doesnt have its own garage, so our concierge partners have to find garages that are willing to participate, then get them to use the system. Its challenging.

Other Key Players
Another partner on the project has been Thea&Schoen Integrated Systems, which is the manufacturer rep for many of the lines that Concierge Direct has installed in the Plaza. Dave Humphries, principal of Thea&Schoen, said that his firms goal in supporting Concierge Direct was to ensure that the project ran smoothly and stayed up to date, from a technology standpoint.

From a forecasting perspective, we coordinate between Concierge and the manufacturers to make sure enough lead time is given in order to deliver the large quantities of equipment required, Humphries said. Due to the very long timeline of the project, an extensive effort was made to have the most recently released products going into the Plaza. A particular product specified three years ago could easily be obsolete, or unavailable. In many cases our role is to act as a direct liaison for Concierge Direct to various manufacturers.

Finding the right manufacturers involved strict criteria for Concierge Direct. On a basic level, products had to be easy to integrate and bidirectional with RS232, according to DeClemente. I didnt want to control anything via infrared, he said. I spent 10 years before I started with Concierge Direct doing AV integration. Ive been in the basement, lived in peoples houses, getting things done, and fighting those challenges. How many times do you drive 45 minutes to a clients house to stick an IR eye back on? We cant have that here.

The integrator also wanted to work only with products that had a track record for reliability. Although electronics in general break, DeClemente and his team wanted products that broke less than others.

Thats why Furman, which manufactures a wide range of power conditioning and voltage stabilization and UPS products, was chosen for the project. If I get a 30-second power blink in here, my AMX processor wont go down, DeClemente explained. It will stay on, and I wont have to reboot. The second the rest of the system comes back up youre processor is ready to go.

Participation in the Plaza project has become a bit of a badge of honor for Furman, according to Dave Keller, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Furman and Panamax. The Plaza project has been a monumental and unique undertaking for Furman, and of great importance for Panamax, he said. In working with Concierge Direct on this installation, we have transcended the bounds of a typical vendor/customer relationship, forming more of a strategic partnership. Both companies are working together very closely in order to provide the Plazas new residents with premium power management solutions for their high-end systems.

Availability of equipment also played into the selection process. Although DeClemente admits to a fondness for esoteric, exciting audio/video gear, he only selected products that if he needed 20 within 90 days, he could get them.

Other brands on the roster at the Plaza include ADA, Krell, Leon Speakers, Furman, Meridian, Kaleidescape, NAD Electronics, Denon, Runco, and Snell Acoustics. Lutron lighting and shade control has also been used throughout, and so has Middle Atlantic, whose equipment racks can be finished in a glossy coat or Mercedes White.

Its all worked out well and enabled Concierge Direct to triple its revenue in just a few years. It hasnt been easy, but its an approach that the company plans to stick with going forward, especially as developers and property owners look for ways to stand out to buyers. This is the quintessential example of integration, DeClemente said. Hotels do it one way, residential property management does it another way, retail is totally different, and then getting involved with the residences, lighting, media management, TVs, and making it all work in concert every day takes it to a whole other level. But, you know, its a compelling package for a developer. Talk about marketing and property distinction.

Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director for Residential Systems in Carmel, Indiana.