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DMR eyes continued growth, pipeline diversity as design firm marks 30th anniversary

DMR eyes continued growth, pipeline diversity as design firm marks 30th anniversary 2000 1125 DMR Architects

By Joshua Burd

Lloyd Rosenberg walks through the halls of the Frank J. Gargiulo Campus in Secaucus with an obvious pride, pointing out everything from the color scheme and curvature of the hallways to a fully equipped teaching kitchen for students at the 350,000-square-foot high school.

His affinity for the space is understandable. Completed in 2018, the $150 million complex is not only a signature project for his firm, DMR Architects, but the largest of its kind for a practice that has spent three decades designing educational facilities.

“The firm was founded doing schools,” said Rosenberg, DMR’s CEO and president. “If you look around this building, you see that … it has a great number of elements — colors, materials, acoustics — that are a higher end of creativity than a typical school building.”

Education remains a cornerstone of DMR’s business, as evidenced by the state-of-the-art vocational school, but the firm is now every bit as prolific in sectors such as multifamily, government, health care and interiors. That growth has helped it build a portfolio of more than 3,000 projects since its founding — as the practice marks its 30th anniversary — and a current pipeline that spans 200 projects valued at more than $1 billion.

That means there are likely more milestones to come for the Hasbrouck Heights-based firm, which has grown from a team of three to 45, whose services now range from design to redevelopment planning.

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been — across the board,” Rosenberg said.

The Jersey City native started his career in the mid-1960s after attending the acclaimed College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma. Fittingly, his first major project after returning to New Jersey was the new Glen Ridge High School, he said, recalling a design that involved a large cantilever overhang at the main entry and a central library surrounded by classrooms.

Rosenberg would spend the next 25 or so years working on not only schools, but on office, residential and other project types, building a diverse foundation that would guide the rest of his career. Still, it was education that helped him launch DMR in mid-1991, in the wake of a recession, as a three-person operation.

“There was not a lot of work in the business to go after,” he said. “I was lucky to get some of the school clients that I had to continue with us to do their work.”

Among its early projects was a new Sparta Middle School, a 127,000-square-foot facility that would open in the late 1990s. The local school board retained DMR early in the process after voters approved the project, which would become the largest building in Sussex County at the time and showcased the firm’s capabilities.

“I felt like I had hit a milestone doing that,” Rosenberg said, noting that the firm had only about 10 employees at the time, making it all the more notable to work on the roughly $35 million project. It was also a chance to bring high-end design to a school after a period — starting around the 1950s, he said — in which aesthetics had seemingly faded from public buildings.

Even with the milestone, Rosenberg saw the need to branch out.

“It was important for us to diversify our practice because the last thing we want to do is specialize in one particular area and then when that area dries up … we run out of work,” he said. “In my career I’ve seen some of those spikes and highs and lows, so we purposely diversified in all of these other areas.”

That was no easy task for a firm that was “known as a school architect,” he said, but DMR succeeded in the years that followed. Rosenberg attributes that to key hires such as Pradeep Kapoor, who has spearheaded its growth in areas such as government and public safety, which were a natural choice due to its experience with school districts. That has led to a long list of projects such as the Bergen County Public Safety Operations Center in Mahwah and the Jersey City Justice Complex.

Additionally, Rosenberg cites the growth of DMR’s multifamily residential practice, which has designed 10,000 units in New Jersey in recent years, amid an ongoing apartment boom that is poised to continue. That has included everything from Russo Development’s conversion of the historic Annin Flag factory in Verona to new midrise rental buildings throughout the state.

“We can’t build enough multifamily housing,” said Rosenberg, who hopes to see the pace continue for at least the near future. “I’m old enough to know that it doesn’t last forever, but we’re certainly taking the ride right now.”

The past decade has also seen the growth of DMR’s redevelopment and municipal planning practice, which is best-known for crafting a rehabilitation plan for Hackensack’s downtown. Led by Francis Reiner, who joined the firm in 2008 to launch the practice, the team has guided the city’s efforts to create a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment around its aging Main Street corridor, helping to attract developers and resulting in more than 3,500 new apartments completed, under construction or in development in the district.

The effort has also yielded new community and outdoor public spaces, plus improved pedestrian and automobile circulation by bringing two-way traffic back to Main and State streets.

“From my perspective, the city had great leadership and was willing to listen to new ideas and opportunities,” Reiner said. “We were at the table when all of those things happened, so that was really both personally and professionally very rewarding, and the city has supported what our plans were and we’ve had great success there.”

Reiner, a partner and senior urban designer with DMR, credited Rosenberg for supporting the growth of the practice and having the vision that being a leader in planning and redevelopment would “provide the firm with a pipeline of opportunities from an architectural standpoint.” To be sure, the platform began to expand in earnest around 2015, bringing the firm to municipalities ranging from Elmwood Park to East Brunswick. It now has about 100 active planning projects in a given month, Reiner said, thanks in part to its ability to offer both design services and consulting in areas such as zoning, construction pricing and navigating the state’s redevelopment law.

“I think we look at a broader picture,” he said. “It’s usually a problem or an issue that the municipality has to solve and we believe we bring a lot to the table in helping them solve that problem. As opposed to just solving the problem for the architect or solving the problem for a planner, we’re trying to solve a problem for how you finance it, how you get it built, what’s the timeframe, what’s the cost — all of those things come into play.”

DMR’s planning and residential practices are now intertwined as integral parts of its pipeline going forward. Look no further than communities such as Ridgefield Park, where the firm developed the master plan for the mixed-use, 55-acre Skymark Town Center, while designing a 19-story high-rise in the borough with 552 apartments.

Its foothold in education also remains as strong as ever. Having completed more than 1,000 school projects to date, equating to more than $900 million in development, its pipeline in the sector now comprises roughly $325 million in activity. That includes new schools in Plainfield, Paterson, Carteret, New Brunswick and Jersey City, as well as 25 upgrade projects in New Jersey and 40 in New York City.

Even DMR’s corporate interiors practice is busy, Rosenberg said, despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. As it were, he said the firm is fortunate that COVID-19 impacted its pipeline far less than anyone had feared.

“We were worried about what was going to happen, but we didn’t have any breakdown in projects or clients. I think it was more about managing the staff and managing people,” Rosenberg said. He added that the firm was about 90 percent remote for the first few months of the crisis before bringing team members back to the office for much-needed collaboration.

The diversity of DMR’s portfolio has been critical to withstanding the pandemic and other past downturns, which is a point of pride for Rosenberg. He’s also proud of how his team has grown in recent years, he said, noting that “I would hire more people if they were available.”

“Finding good people right now is very hard,” he added, but he believes that the firm’s multidisciplinary platform is a key draw for prospective employees.

“One of the things we like to consider with staff is that they don’t get pigeonholed into a particular area,” Rosenberg said. “So a young architect that comes into the firm, if they’ve always done houses (but) they want to see other things, we offer them the ability from project to project to work on different things so they get experience, they get knowledge. They may eventually like one particular area and become better at it than others.”

This article originally appeared in Real Estate New Jersey

To get things done in N.J., he knows how to break all the rules

To get things done in N.J., he knows how to break all the rules 2000 1125 DMR Architects

by George E. Jordan

Redeveloping communities so they are livable, look nice and stay nice sounds easy.

But in New Jersey, a tangled maze of zoning codes can derail even the most modest projects, according to legendary architect Lloyd A. Rosenberg, whose work can be seen across the state.

Too often, Rosenberg said, out-of-date zoning laws devolve into a restrictive blanket of codes, historic districts and development zones. The patchwork means virtually all projects require an exemption, a process long used by opponents of development to stifle construction.

But two very different projects some 40 miles apart – Hackensack’s historic downtown and East Brunswick’s plan to create a town center – are experiencing a revival through skillful revision of their zoning codes.

Their success can be a lesson for others.

“They’re different, but they seek the same results,” said Rosenberg, who founded DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights 30 years ago. “The municipalities are looking for some type of town center. At one point, Hackensack had it and lost it. … East Brunswick didn’t have one, but we’re helping them plan something.”

Rosenberg’s firm helped write the land use plan for both towns. The vision relies on New Urbanism, high-density development that assumes people prefer to drive less and have the option to walk to take care of their ordinary daily needs – food, health, work, play and school.

East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen, who made building a town center a platform of his 2016 election campaign, said Covid-era hybrid work has only amplified the opportunities.

“The pandemic has people more accepting of hybrid work. So it makes sense to activate some of the retail that people feared would be empty during the day,” said Cohen, who is also a gynecological surgeon. “The architects have been very helpful in designing the redevelopment plan.”

East Brunswick’s plan calls for 700 residential units, retail outlets, a parking deck, parks, an ice skating rink, a theater, dog park and other amenities on 66 acres in the auto-centric town that ultimately will resemble the quant downtowns of Robbinsville and Metuchen, the mayor said.

“People bought into this because the properties were blighted. It was a strain on the community. The buildings are burnt out and there’s nobody in them,” Cohen said.

Unlike East Brunswick, downtown Hackensack, the Bergen County seat, is a one-time industrial powerhouse that had fallen on hard times in recent years.

“Hackensack never had a vision. What Lloyd and DMR said is you didn’t have development for 30 years because there were too many small properties,” said Francis Reiner, an urban planner at DMR Architects who works with Hackensack’s planning officials.

Reiner said the 39-acre downtown included almost 400 lots between 35 feet to 75 feet wide, too narrow to develop into multifamily apartments or condominiums.

So beginning in 2012, Hackensack offered property owners an incentive: land assemblages of 200 liner feet or greater could build as high as 14 stories tall instead of 6 stories high under the old zoning law.

In short order, 25 different partnerships submitted redevelopment plans. So far, Hackensack officials said the city has added 1,000 residential units, 1,500 more are under construction and another 3,500 are on the drawing board.

Outdated zoning codes tend to focus on design features – cornices, mullions, rooflines, massing and setbacks on new buildings. Frequently, those requirements are a convenient excuse for New Jersey towns and villages to keep everything the same.

And the buildings that do win approval often are more expensive because of delays in government approvals, low density and small square footage in the name of controlling traffic congestion.

To counter that inertia, the plans for East Brunswick and Hackensack included expedited approvals of redevelopment plans and building permits to prevent delays and hold down costs, Rosenberg said.

Then there’s the “third place,’’ a development concept encouraged in the master plan that says part of the community is neither at work nor home. Instead, that space is for people to meet and interact. That could be a park or a performing arts center.

Rosenberg, 78, does extensive work on public projects and has a reputation for his political connections and good bedside manner with clients.

His staff argues the odds are good most New Jersey residents have seen some of his work, which includes dozens of public buildings, the Secaucus NJ Transit rail station, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, the NJ Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel and dozens of large residential developments.

Rosenberg studied architecture at Oklahoma University under the celebrated urban planner Herb Green and Lloyd Wright, the brother of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

That influence shows in the plans for Hackensack, where the rules for the gentrification of buildings call for variegated façades, receding rooflines, lots of glass and intersecting cubes in different colors and materials.

At street level, those features make the new high-rise apartments feel smaller.

“Hackensack is on the way to be successful. There’s more restaurants coming, there is more foot traffic on main street,” Rosenberg said. “In two or three years, it should be bustling just based on the volume of the number of people living there.”

This article originally appeared in The Star Ledger. 

 

Reflections on the First 30 Years of DMR Architects

Reflections on the First 30 Years of DMR Architects 2000 1125 DMR Architects

By Lloyd A. Rosenberg, AIA, President & CEO of DMR Architects

In anticipation of our 30th Anniversary, I was asked often about how we built the firm that DMR is today. But as I reflect on this answer, I find that the key to our longevity is just as much in the answers to “what?” and most importantly, “who?”

We opened in 1991 with four employees who had a vision to push boundaries with technology, innovative design and attentiveness to our client’s operational opportunities and objectives.

It was a vision that began more than 30 years prior at the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, which I attended during its golden era, studying under famous architects including Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruce Goff, Herb Greene and Paolo Soleri. The program shaped not only a design sensibility in me, but the grueling 5-year program instilled in me a high energy for the work.

My career prior to founding DMR provided a wide variety of experiences and projects that were excellent preparation for creating and running the practice we have today. I built an entire city in Nigeria, where I would spend three months at a time and once even hid out in a safe house during a coup. I also designed a $100 million luxury apartment complex that received attention as the units were rentals, an uncommon concept at the time.

Eventually, the nature of the projects I worked on grew to focus largely on the educational sector. Appropriately, when I founded DMR, we set out to provide professional services primarily to school districts and we landed our first major project, a new elementary school in Brewster, NY.

At that time, we never could have mapped out a plan for creating and sustaining the broad set of practice areas and disciplines that now comprise DMR. But from the first day I knew that we would achieve one of the most elusive aspects of architecture: a durable enterprise.

I envisioned a firm ingrained in the fabric of New Jersey’s real estate industry and most importantly, a place where talented people do great work. This meant building a company that could withstand economic cycles, keep pace with emerging technologies and practices and one that was constantly cultivating and empowering new talent. Diversification was critical to this goal.

Of course, the trust that our clients have put in us to construct some of the region’s most meaningful and essential projects over the years has also facilitated our execution of this vision. But, ultimately creating the base from which we grew was not just about timing; it was about intention.

Clients tend to emerge within cycles and reacting to market evolution was particularly essential to achieving stability in our practice. Identifying solutions for our client’s needs is the very basis of our mission – a commitment that calls on our passion to overcome challenges.

For us, diversification was a reflexive opportunity: because we had a practice that was cross pollinated, we saw solutions that more narrowly organized firms could never see. Because we had diverse clients, our people always had new and exciting challenges.

Every business has its own culture and value system and at DMR our focus is on guiding the firm based on a core belief that creating a rewarding environment for employees is one of the most important objectives of the firm. In service businesses, our staff is the most prized asset and we are devoted to nurturing our people so that they strive to reach their potential within our walls.

DMR is a place that celebrates not only big things like our 30th anniversary but also, holidays, professional achievements and personal milestones. We have fun together with ugly sweater and pumpkin carving contests, cruises around the Meadowlands and nights at the nearby racetrack.

When I reflect on the most important stats of DMR, it’s not project metrics that I am most proud of; it’s that our staff tenure averages over 10 years and that I have had the privilege to grow this firm along with a team of professionals just as invested in our success as I was, which includes many who have been here for upwards of 20 of DMR’s 30 years.

Of course, reflecting on our people also means preparing for the next 30 years of DMR. A threshold moment of the firm came in 2016, when for the first time, DMR named five partners. While I am as engaged and driven as at any other time in my career, I also recognize that a new generation is emerging here.

At our scale, we can provide opportunities for advancement for everyone who has the ambition and the energy to make things happen. The most gratifying aspect of this is that our management meetings focus on sustaining DMR by extending and enhancing the culture that brought us here.

Real Estate NJ’s 2021 Market Forecast

Real Estate NJ’s 2021 Market Forecast 2000 1125 DMR Architects

(Excerpt)

After a year like no other, New Jersey’s commercial real estate industry is eager to turn the page. But many believe the pandemic’s impact will be felt for months if not years to come.

As always, we’re here to help you make sense of it all with the help of some top developers, service providers and thought leaders. You can find their predictions for the year ahead and more in our special 2021 Market Forecast.

Lloyd A. Rosenberg, AIA, President and CEO

The migration that started before the pandemic will continue through 2021 with renters willing to trade the conveniences of living in Manhattan for the lifestyle, sense of community and luxury amenities packages they can enjoy in urban and suburban markets throughout North Jersey. A tight for-sale market that has driven housing prices up, along with the desire for maintenance-free living, could also speed up the timeframe for empty-nesters looking to downsize. These and other demographics are looking for things like private outdoor add-ons like outdoor cooking and dining, pools and interesting rooftop terraces along with well-appointed apartment homes that have flexible spaces for multiple uses and ample storage, but at a reasonable price point. We’re currently designing rental communities in Woodbridge, Morristown, Edgewater, New Brunswick and Jersey City to fulfill these lifestyle needs while also being near NJ Transit and all of New Jersey’s major road arteries.

(201) 288-2600
lloyd@dmrarchitects.com
777 Terrace Ave., Suite 607
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604

 

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RE-NJ

Architects on Pandemic Designs

Architects on Pandemic Designs 960 540 DMR Architects

Architects have been assisting businesses with their COVID-19 workplace concerns, but are vaccines creating optimism for an office return to normal?

Kimmerle Harding Office

The Kimmerle Group’s office in Harding Township has been outfitted to better protect employees during the pandemic.

BY ANTHONY BIRRITTERI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

While commercial property landlords and businesses that own and operate their own facilities have been busy this past year retrofitting workspaces to protect employees from contracting COVID-19, the promise of vaccines and the hope of a return to normal in the near future means design work has not drastically changed for architectural firms.

“Businesses seem to be happy thinking they are going to return back to normal at some point. Everyone is defaulting to the vaccines,” says George Kimmerle, founding president and partner of the Kimmerle Group, the Harding Township-based architectural firm which consists of Kimmerle Newman Architects, the Urban Studio, and Branding Studio.

Kimmerle says his firm is “incredibly busy.” However, recalling the first few months of the pandemic, he says, “Everyone thought the world was going to come to an end: It didn’t. People worked and adapted and continued to find ways to connect with one another.”

He explains that even during a pandemic, building leases (which come to term every 5, 7 or 10 years, depending on the contract) continue to turn, no matter what goes on in the economy. When that happens, architecture and design firms are called in to refurbish facilities. “So we are in this whole queue of work that repeats and repeats,” Kimmerle says.

William Kimmerle, George’s son and a principal at the firm, is involved in office planning work for clients throughout New Jersey and New York City. He comments that long-term lease outlooks, which normally take into account employment growth and space needs over a three-to-seven-year time frame, now are short 18-month outlooks, taking into consideration when workplaces will return to normal densities.

With that, design changes have been occurring in the workplace this past year.

Meghan Barlotta, senior director of workspace at Kimmerle, says panel heights dividing workstations have increased to provide clients with more privacy and, hopefully, protection. She adds that more antimicrobial fabrics are being used. “We are also applying more wipeable fabrics to furniture, but we haven’t moved to solid-surface workplaces, which we all thought we were heading toward,” she says.

William Kimmerle’s concern is more with air systems than six-foot distancing measures.  “Once you are in a space and the HVAC system is running, you are all in the same air, whether you are 6 feet or 12 feet away,” he says.

High-density filtration is key in combatting the problem, he explains. What landlords are asking for today are Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) air filters rated between 11 to 13. The higher the number, the greater the ability for filters to capture particles between 0.3 and 10 microns (µm).

While a filter that is rated between MERVE 1-4 will capture 20% of particles that are 3.0 – 10.0 microns, a MERV filter with a 12 rating, for example, would capture 90% of these micron particles.

Companies are also implementing ion technology in HVAC systems, where an ion rod spins in the ductwork. “That ionizes the molecules in the air and neutralizes viruses and bacteria,” William Kimmerle says.

Lloyd A. Rosenberg, president and CEO at DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights, explains his firm is also helping clients with similar filtration technologies. Additionally, he says UV lighting is being installed to kill viruses. He also mentions changing inoperable windows to operable ones to access outdoor fresh air, and installing more hands-free technologies for doors, sinks and toilets, etc.

Like Kimmerle Group, work has remained stable, and has even increased at DMR Architects during the pandemic. Interestingly, only 20% of the firm’s work has been COVID related, Rosenberg says.

With some 200 active projects, some of which will take years to complete, he says clients have an understanding and hope that with a vaccine, “people will be back to work this year … and get back to some type of normalcy in 2021.”

When asked about remote working and how that will impact office space, Rosenberg sees it as a mixed bag: “Some businesses have decreased their space because they have people working from home, while others are increasing their space to allow for more separation.”

For residential developments, especially apartments, Rosenberg says his firm is designing alcove spaces that people can use for home offices. “A typical apartment is between 800 to 1,500 square feet. With that, one is most likely working on the kitchen or dining room table, or some other space that is not convenient. So, we are designing dedicated workspaces in apartments without enlarging the square footage of the unit. It’s all about thinking ahead for people who might be working from home in the future,” he says.

When asked if the pre-pandemic trend of urbanization is being impacted due to the pandemic and the fear of being in dense, populated settings, Rosenberg says that a “snapshot” of the last few months shows that living in a [suburban] setting, where people can drive to work, is more convenient than taking mass transit [into a city] and dealing with more congestion. Additionally, he says people living in high rises are less apt to go into the office because they are wary of using the stairs or elevators in their buildings.

“However, all of this is going to change,” Rosenberg adds. “Within a couple of months, we will have corrected that. … People will be back to where they were. … I believe this is temporary blip in our social environment.”

The Healthcare Front

Stopping and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare facilities literally has architects working at ground zero in the effort to save lives.

Specializing in this area, as well as nursing homes, senior care centers, and educational facilities, is New Brunswick-based DI Group Architecture.

According to Vince Myers, president, CFO and co-founder of the firm, when the pandemic hit, hospitals knew what they had to do. “Right out of the gate, they knew that a big part of the problem was virus containment, and the way to do that was negative pressurization in rooms so that the virus is contained within a specified area,” he says.

In a negative pressure room, the air pressure inside the room is lower than the air pressure outside the room. Therefore, when a door is opened, potentially contaminated air in the room will not flow outside into non-contaminated areas.

Negative pressurization is also being used for entire hospital wings, Myers explains, adding that MERV 13 filters, as previously mentioned, are also must items.

With more patient room doors now being closed, Myers says hospitals are also asking for modified doors with cut window glass panels.

Additionally, while two patients per room had been the norm on most hospital floors, DI Group is being tasked with redesigning rooms for single-person use on floors that have been converted into COVID units.

This also means that overall hospital capacity has decreased. “That’s the challenge, not for just hospitals, but for all market sectors in order to create separation,” Myers says. “It’s true in hospitals, senior care facilities and educational facilities.”

Regarding educational facilities, the DI Group works with several school districts throughout the state. “They all have the same problem … how to bring children safely back to school,” Myers says.

“One district that wanted to keep the educational ball rolling knew that the issue had to do with space; not keeping children in a classroom all day, but taking advantage of outdoor learning, re-envisioning the courtyard, taking field trips, or using libraries and multipurpose rooms. So we are doing all of that,” Myers says.

He explains that prior to COVID-19, everything at an educational facility was geared toward security and one point of entrance. “However, when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t have children funneling through one door. We now have to use every entrance to the building. Why? Because we have to keep children separated while getting them into the building on time.”

He adds that different corridors in school buildings are now being used for one-way traffic, creating one-way air circulation.

While architects explain that most of their clients expect a return to normal, Myers says there will still be challenges by the end of 2021.

“The vaccine will not solve all of the problems all at once,” he says. “However, there are some lessons learned; some best practices that we should think about instituting going forward. If we are smart, we will know that another pandemic will be in our future. However, we now know how to deal with some of these things. … We sort of wrote the plan.”

This article originally appears in New Jersey Business

Real estate predictions 2021

Real estate predictions 2021 2000 1125 DMR Architects

(Excerpt)

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed some aspects of commercial real estate while lifted others up. Its impact is too great — and still too uncertain — to pass judgment just yet.

So, we asked a number of influencers in commercial real estate to look into the future and predict its impact on commercial real estate in 2021.

Here are their thoughts:

Lloyd Rosenberg, CEO, DMR Architects

The ubiquitous open floor plan can easily adapt for social distancing with new workstation and benching layouts, and by incorporating software to control maximum occupancy loads. Building owners and employers can also improve ventilation by installing UV lighting or Bi-Polar Ionization air purification in their HVAC systems, and we anticipate outdoor areas playing a bigger role in our designs to encourage higher use. We’ll see more touchless technology like heat scanners at building entryways and automatic interior door openers. We also anticipate clients looking for ways to decrease the need for employees to come back and forth throughout the day, with flexible spaces so that they can offer employees meals, fitness and communication options.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in ROI-NJ

Institutional Construction Concerns

Institutional Construction Concerns 960 540 DMR Architects

How builders are delivering social distancing solutions in a surprisingly busy institutional real estate market. 

BY MEG FRY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

With COVID-19 being more of a threat to spread indoors, one might consider the effect the pandemic has had on institutional construction, or the creation of buildings for the masses, such as schools, government buildings, healthcare facilities, and more. 

However, the market is surprisingly meeting its yearly projections. 

“Outside of the blips in March and April, projects that already were ongoing have progressed normally,” says Christopher Cornick, director of business development in New Jersey for Gilbane Building Co., one of the largest family-owned construction and real estate development firms in the industry. 

In fact, some firms are busier than ever. Take DMR Architects, a top architectural and professional planning firm in Hasbrouck Heights that is still growing in both revenue and employees this year. 

“We have about $1 billion in the pipeline of projects in design or under construction and that hasn’t really changed,” Lloyd Rosenberg, president and CEO of DMR Architects, says. “For example, we have half a dozen schools under construction, including in Carteret, Paterson and Plainfield, and we’re planning a new school in New Brunswick. Additionally, the amount of work being planned is remarkably good.” 

Construction of essential facilities, such as those in healthcare, also help balance slower paces of development in other sectors, says John White Jr., regional chief operating officer at Structure Tone, a global construction management and general contracting firm with offices in Woodbridge. 

“Healthcare was booming before the COVID-19 crisis and is still the most active,” White says. “Before COVID-19, we had worked with Atlantic Health System on more than 60 projects – then, throughout the most intense days of the pandemic, we worked on several emergency response projects while also continuing on some projects that already were set in motion.” 

Urgent projects included installing more than 100 temporary negative air systems into existing windows to add to hospitals’ capacities to treat COVID-19 patients, White adds. 

Meanwhile, Turner Construction, an international construction services company with offices in Somerset, was busy constructing a new field hospital, adding nearly 4,000 beds for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Stony Brook University in response to COVID-19. 

“We also saw very little slowdown in the work we did in New Jersey, thanks in part to all of our precautions,” says Mark Romanski, vice president and general manager at Turner Construction. 

In an industry already familiar and comfortable with safety protocols and personal protective equipment, the added measures of masks, gloves, temperature screenings, and disinfectants were not a shock to the system. 

“However, this situation did force project teams to become more comfortable with virtual collaboration, which allowed us to move projects forward even during the shutdown,” White says. “For example, we used virtual walk-through tools to capture progress on-site for our clients and design partners, who often were not physically coming to the site.” 

Cornick said his team also applied existing cutting-edge technology to encourage and enhance safety measures against COVID-19. 

“We’ve studied – and have discussed with our clients and design partners – what buildings will look like post-pandemic, and there are certainly things people are planning for today, particularly in regard to air filtration and HVAC systems, that COVID-19 has pushed further along,” Romanski says. “Additionally, and particularly in healthcare, clients are asking if there are things they can do for a bit more money that would give them more adaptability and flexibility to make adjustments in the event of a future pandemic, without needing to start from scratch or make any major structural changes.” 

Current industry work includes modifying existing spaces to accommodate for COVID-19 protection, including installing plexiglass at areas of interaction, transitioning two-way doors into single entryways and exits, and installing touchless fixtures, to name a few. 

“The modifications being made to these facilities allow people to have peace of mind while following best practices,” Cornick says. “For example, we are working with Bergen County right now on a reopening plan that would safely allow their employees and their constituents to return to these physical spaces and facilities, such as court houses and administrative buildings.” 

However, whether clients are being proactive against future pandemics heavily depends on their policies and financial abilities, he added. 

“Clients who already are and have been considering their employees’ health and wellbeing at work are certainly considering more WELL Building Certifications and making the appropriate accommodations to be better prepared if something like this should ever happen again,” Cornick says. “But some more reactive folks don’t want to, or can’t make, any capital decisions based solely on COVID-19. [They] are going to continue to do what they typically would from a brick-and-mortar standpoint, while addressing any government mandates or socially responsible accommodations with measures such as a reduction in office capacities.” 

“What’s next for any institution with a large capital plan still seems underdetermined in these continued uncertain circumstances,” White says. “That said, as we look ahead, many healthcare institutions, for example, are anxious for people to get back to booking elective surgeries and other revenue-generating procedures, so we expect more projects to ecmerge once the threat of continued surges is behind us.” 

Still, many building owners are beginning to analyze future projects in terms of funding and square footage, Cornick says, given the fact that remote work has become more necessary – and more viable – during COVID-19. 

“Will they still need that much physical space?” he says. “It depends on who you talk to – which is why I think we may realize more of an impact from this in 2021 into 2022.” 

Romanski agrees. “One day, a designer told us buildings will be smaller because more folks are now working from home, and the next day, a client called and said they wanted even more square footage to better allow for social distancing,” he says. 

Rosenberg says that while the public buildings his firm is currently constructing and planning for are all working to accommodate on-site employees, it is still too soon to tell how people will react. 

“We’re still going through the transition – and most people don’t want to spend a tremendous amount of money now for solutions to the unknown.”  

The Raw Materials Factor 

The speed at which buildings are constructed is being impacted by natural disasters.

While many industry players say they experienced only minor inconsistencies in the supply chain during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Christopher Cornick, director of business development in New Jersey for Gilbane Building Co., says 2020 proved why firms like his should always be brought on early in the design process.

“At the height of COVID-19, we had to shut down some project sites due to government mandates, but when we returned, the virus had already spread to other geographies and began impacting, for example, commercial furniture manufacturing in Michigan,” Cornick says. “We’re also continuing to see impacts on traditional building commodities like drywall and lumber as a result of a combination of COVID-19, the storms in the Gulf, and the fires in the West – and that doesn’t even account for all the materials coming in from overseas.”  

If items used to take 14 weeks to receive, manufacturers are now extending those delivery dates to 20 weeks and charging premiums to expedite, Cornick adds.  

“But if an architect is creating specifications, and we are also at the table, we can help guide our clients in those decisions,” he explains. “We could say, ‘Hey, what you chose is coming from location X, and there could be some impact to our schedule and your costs because of that.’  

“We could then present them with more local, more readily available, and more cost-effective options, because it’s tough to make up the time when construction has already begun,” Cornick concludes.

This article originally appeared in New Jersey Business

The changing work habits caused by COVID-19 could give NJ suburban office space a boost

The changing work habits caused by COVID-19 could give NJ suburban office space a boost 960 540 DMR Architects

by Melanie Anzidei

For nearly four months, a large chunk of New Jersey has been working from home.

Now, even though the state’s reopening is on pause, employers are preparing for an eventual return to the workplace — and experts familiar with the North Jersey suburban office market are predicting the suburbs may see an unexpected boost from the pandemic.

That’s because, with the threat of COVID-19 unlikely to subside in coming months, employers will be forced to adapt to a new normal — a more flexible work environment.

“A key question now is, with the pandemic, are we going to see a renewed suburban office market?” said James Hughes, a Rutgers professor and dean emeritus of the school’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “It’s not going to go back to what it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but the demand for satellite offices and the like — where employees could spend one or two days a week at home, one or two days at the satellite office, and then one at the headquarters building — may be the new pattern.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic is also accelerating trends, like more flexible work-from-home policies, which have already started to change the way developers design new residential rental space.

One of Mountain Development Corporation's suburban office complexes in Woodland Park.
Michael Allen Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corp., a commercial real estate developing firm based in Woodland Park, has experienced an uptick in interest from Manhattan-based employers who have signed multi-year leases on small suburban spaces, generally under 10,000-square-feet. The employers, he said, are interested in finding office space where a large concentration of their employees live — including areas like Chatham in Morris County, Woodland Park in Passaic County and Stamford, Connecticut.

“We’ve actually seen a lot of interest from companies that were based in Manhattan and like the idea of having a space closer to some of their employees’ homes,” Seeve said. “We’ve had some real activity in a lot of our buildings for smaller spaces for just that kind of user, and if that’s a trend that continues, that could be very positive for the suburbs.”

Although many companies have been operating remotely since New Jersey and New York’s stay at home orders were issued in March, businesses have been preparing for their employees’ eventual return over the past month, Seeve said. At Mountain Development, tenants have asked about protocols for cleaning, mask enforcement, air conditioning filters, limiting capacity on elevators, handling mail, and related concerns, although it remains unclear when employees will repopulate office space.

“They’re not going to reoccupy with everyone at once,” Seeve said. “Some people will continue to work at home, and some people will come back to the office — and they may do it in teams or in phases.”

New designs for the home office

The change in work culture, which emphasized more flexibility to work from home, has also influenced residential design. Some firms are designing spaces for future homeowners with those cultural shifts in mind, said Lloyd A. Rosenberg, president and chief executive of DMR Architects, an architectural and urban design firm based in Hasbrouck Heights.

In these instances, the design could include devoting a separate area entirely for working at home, rather than using a bedroom as a makeshift office, Rosenberg said. This new kind of design can be an upgrade from what many have been doing in recent months, like working from their kitchen island or dining room table.

Lloyd Rosenberg, president and CEO of DMR.

The emphasis on flexibility and remote work is likely to accelerate trends in work culture that were already in motion, said Hughes, the Rutgers professor.

“It’s sort of a gasoline on the fire accelerant,” he said. “It’s accelerating trends that had been in force, but rapidly increasing the pace of change. The most obvious is working at home. But what probably would have happened over five years may be compressed into six months to a year.

“Firms are going to have to rethink how work is going to take place in many businesses,” Hughes said.

Fewer group spaces, the return of private offices?

While the pandemic has made remote work the standard for many businesses overnight, some employees may be eager to get back to the office, where certain tasks might be easier to complete. For that reason, Hughes predicts that some companies will invest in satellite suburban offices to serve as resource centers or areas to collaborate — and which are easier to get to than a company’s city headquarters.

“It’s not simply working at home versus working at a central office,” Hughes said. “I think we’re going to see that more dispersed, multi-locational pattern for a number of companies, and that’s going to work to the advantage of New Jersey’s aging suburban office inventory.”

Social distancing guidelines will also impact office culture, Hughes said. Companies will likely set in place scattered schedules. And social distancing will jettison the trend of shared office spaces and collaborative work environments that employers recently introduced to appeal to younger employees, like millennials.

The emphasis on suburbs by large corporations is reminiscent of the 1980s in New Jersey, when the state experienced what Hughes described as a “massive suburban office boom.” At that time, employees were fleeing Manhattan.

“New York City was hemorrhaging jobs. It had a fiscal crisis. There were drug problems and the like. Corporate America was fleeing to the suburbs, and so we had a massive office building boom,” Hughes said. “Eighty percent of all the office space ever built in the history of New Jersey went up during that ten-year period, from 1980 to 1990.”

Eventually, the rise of 21st century technology marked the beginning of the end for the suburban office parks of the 1980s in Bergen County. Many of the spaces that were built during the office boom became outdated, and in recent years developers have re-purposed these areas for new uses, as distribution centers, retail and housing developments, said Hughes.

Yet before the pandemic, the New Jersey office market was generally strong, thanks to a robust economy that resulted in employee hiring, Seeve said. However, the economy has since taken a nosedive with the coronavirus pandemic — some of Seeve’s tenants have canceled leases because they went out of business.

Still, Seeve said those in the sector have been working collaboratively to navigate the pandemic as best they can. And, he cautioned, the suburbs can only thrive if Manhattan, too, recovers from the financial fallout of COVID-19.

“As difficult as it feels right now, I suspect that New York will bounce back and turn into a slightly different, but still spectacular city soon enough,” Seeve said. “It’s great to see a surge of activity in the suburbs, but not at the expense of New York. The suburbs exist in sympathy with New York, not in competition with New York, so it’s important, I think, for New York to enjoy a recovery as soon as possible.”

This article originally appears on NorthJersey.com.

How can state and local leaders help bring new foot traffic to their downtowns?

How can state and local leaders help bring new foot traffic to their downtowns? 960 540 DMR Architects

(Excerpt)

We assembled a panel of industry experts to tackle this month’s question.

Here’s what they had to say.

Francis Reiner, senior urban designer, DMR Architects (Hasbrouck Heights)

There are a number of important aspects municipalities will need to consider moving forward. The design of public sidewalks, parks, plazas and other gathering spaces will be a critical component to meet the increasing needs of residents in downtowns under the ‘new normal.’

We anticipate the continued expansion of outdoor dining, both along the street and within larger parks and plazas. The design of the street and building setbacks along with smaller pocket parks and plazas at specific nodes within a downtown will be critical to support restaurants and outdoor dining similar to the Atlantic Street Park in Hackensack that was completed in 2015.

Municipalities should consider opportunities to temporarily convert on-street or ancillary parking, as well as street and alleyway closures on weekends and at night and building temporary pocket parks and parklets that support these types of function while allowing safe movement of pedestrians within a downtown.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RE-NJ

This N.J. group has been trying to save historic properties for 25 years. Is it working?

This N.J. group has been trying to save historic properties for 25 years. Is it working? 960 540 DMR Architects

By Brianna Kudisch

George Washington Commemorative EventThe George Washington Commemorative Society of Jersey City Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony took place at the Apple Tree House in Jersey City on Monday, February 17, 2020.

It was 1996 and the historic Jersey City building was not in great shape. The front porch was falling off. Windows were boarded up. There was water damage and the attic was filled with junk—and bat feces.

The Van Wagenen House, also known as the Apple Tree House —prominent due to an unconfirmed claim that generals George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette met under an apple tree on the property to discuss Revolutionary War Strategy—was in danger of being demolished.

“It was just truly in a dilapidated state,” said Courtenay Mercer, who was familiar with the property. “It was uninhabitable at that point.”

But two years later, the city bought the property with the intention of preserving it and designating it as a local landmark. It took nearly two decades, but in 2017, the house reopened to the public with the ability to host events and house the offices of the Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs and Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.

One group that deserves at least partial credit is Preservation New Jersey, a nonprofit based in West Trenton that supports historic preservation through advocacy and education.

Since its launch 25 years ago, Preservation New Jersey has highlighted 250 historic sites — all across the state and all in varying shapes of decline — that need attention. Through the group’s efforts, and specifically their annual top 10 list, they hope to bring more awareness to historic properties, and eventually make a legislative change that would encourage more historic restoration.

Top 10 Lists

Every year, Preservation New Jersey publishes a list, highlighting the “10 Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ.” The process starts with a public call for nominations in the fall, accepting them up until the New Year, Mercer, the organization’s director, said.

A committee of historic preservation experts start fact-checking the nominations in January and decide which properties go on the list, up until April. The committee then writes up paragraphs for each nomination and releases the top 10 list in May, she said.

The group has done this for 25 years, with varying degrees of success, Mercer said. Of the 250 sites since the start, roughly 15% have been “saved” in that they’ve been restored and are getting use, she said.

Another 15% have been lost, and then “everything else is kinda in the middle, in various degrees,” she said. The other categories they use to classify properties—critical, progress made, endangered, etc.—are more fluid.

So for example, critical is right before lost forever, Mercer said.

“It’s so deteriorated that if somebody doesn’t come in there, soon, it’s a lost cause,” she told NJ Advance Media, “versus progress made, would be we know that they got a grant and it’s not restored yet, but there’s a movement, or somebody bought it and has said they plan to restore it.”

Celebrating their 25th anniversary at an upcoming gala in March, Preservation New Jersey sees its advocacy work as an important part of preserving the state’s history, one local property at a time.

“We don’t have the capacity to fight for all the structures in New Jersey. They need someone locally-minded and so generally, when we select the sites, we try to make sure there is somebody interested in saving it and our public relations effort helps galvanize efforts to help in the grassroots effort,” Mercer said.

Challenges to restoration

A lot of the properties are in danger of being demolished due to development pressure, Mercer said. There’s also a lack of funding for these types of properties, both to maintain and restore them, which has not changed since Preservation New Jersey’s start.

“Maybe the locations have shifted a little bit. As we’re seeing our urban centers revitalized, we’re seeing more pressure to tear down structures in the cities and downtowns,” she said, “but the reasons behind it has not really changed, nor the number coming in every year.”

There’s also the issue of government restrictions.

For example, if a property is on the historic registry, there are stricter guidelines for restoration, including needing to submit the intent of the renovation to the state, explained Francis Reiner, an urban designer and partner at DMR Architects.

This is compared to a property that may have historical value but isn’t actually on the register, so it’s more flexible what you can do to the property. DMR Architects helped convert a 140-year-old former Masonic temple in downtown Hackensack to a performing arts center, Reiner said.

Hackensack Peforming Arts Center

A 400-year-old former Masonic temple in downtown Hackensack was converted into a performing arts center.

They kept the exterior and architectural style of the building intact and gutted the interior of the building. They also assessed the structure, making sure the second floor was capable of handling live loads of audiences and the whole building was up to code.

“Because it was not historically registered, we were able to make those changes and do those things and put back something that really benefits the community,” Reiner told NJ Advance Media.

Cost is another potentially prohibitive factor of designating and preserving these properties.

Funding has always been an issue, although that part has gotten slightly better in recent years, Eric Holtermann, an architect who worked on the Van Wagenen house, said.

“(New Jersey) is a state where labor costs are high,” he said. “Careful restoration work can be costly. (But) there’s just a general recognition that buildings are important enough and a pretty good movement for trying to save these buildings.

“Still, all over the state, buildings that are viable are knocked down,” he added, “(because they’re) more convenient in the short term.”

Growing interest

Despite these challenges, some experts believe that it has actually gotten easier to save properties over the years.

David Listokin, a professor who specializes in historic preservation at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said there’s been increased interest in restoring these types of properties, which reflects a change of attitude.

“It is challenging. Older properties have their needs,” he told NJ Advance Media. “You have people sometimes….chasing at a public body having oversight over their properties, but there’s clearly been a sea change in terms of growing interest in historic properties and a desire to preserve them.”

Listokin pointed to the old, original Pennsylvania Station as an example of a catalyst. Stunning, classic design, soaring ceilings, a “one-of-a-kind,” Listokin explained about the original building, which was knocked down in the 1960s.

Old Penn StationThe demolition of the old Penn Station in the 1960s helped spur the current historic preservation movement, Rutgers professor David Listokin said. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

The demolition of the old Penn Station in the 1960s helped spur the current historic preservation movement, Rutgers professor David Listokin said. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

The demolition of Penn Station, Listokin said, sparked a growing recognition that the loss of historic properties is “really a loss to society.” Not long after the station’s demise, New York City established a local landmarks commission.

“And the reason why I mention that is that of course, now when you go into Penn Station, you have a very different experience,” he said.

People also recognize maintenance of historic properties may benefit the public in the long-term. Mercer pointed to the Statehouse as an example.

“They let it go for so long and then it became a multi-million dollar project and had to be closed for X number of years,” she said. The Statehouse is currently undergoing a controversial $300 million renovation launched by former Gov. Chris Christie.

Moving forward, Preservation New Jersey aims to continue raising awareness of the threats that historic properties face. The organization wants to bring in new members who are interested in preservation, not just the “frequent fliers” who participate in the community, Mercer said.

At the March gala, the organization is premiering a documentary it created commemorating the 25th anniversary of the “10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey” lists. The documentary features people who were closely involved with three properties that were recognized over the years.

Preservation New Jersey is also pushing for a state historic preservation tax credit, which would allow a credit on the expense of restoring a historic property. The proposal is part of a five-bill package Gov. Phil Murphy touted last February to overhaul tax incentives in the state, NJ Advance Media previously reported.

However, the tax credit does not currently exist—it is still a proposal. New Jersey is one of only 13 states that doesn’t have a tax credit program for historic restoration, Mercer said.

“The states that have (historic preservation tax credit programs) tend to draw down more money from the federal program,” Mercer said, referring to federal historic tax credits.

“It helps the property owners bridge that gap of restoration. If there are more resources available, hopefully there will be fewer endangered properties.”

This article originally appeared on NJ.com