DMR’s Success Linked to Team’s Cultural and Skills Diversity

DMR’s Success Linked to Team’s Cultural and Skills Diversity 789 444 DMR Architects

New Jersey is the fourth most diverse state in the United States and nowhere is that more evident – or beneficial – than at DMR Architects, where more than half of the employees are naturalized or first-generation Americans.

DMR’s teams of varied voices are uniquely qualified to lead projects that are intended for vast populations including healthcare, public education and parks, municipal redevelopment plans and buildings, and residential options that range from affordable rental housing to luxury condominiums. The outcomes ensure that no one will walk in and think “this building is not for me.”

“The benefits of diversity and inclusivity are profound – we see positive impacts in a broad spectrum of expected and unexpected parts of our business,” said Lloyd Rosenberg, AIA.

“A variety of cultures creates a mixture of perspectives and that leads to greater creativity in our work – something we would expect.   But additionally, our clients come from a broad set of backgrounds, and when they respect that our organization has a value system that welcomes diversity, a comfort level ensues.”

Mr. Rosenberg, a native of Jersey City, which is among the most diverse cities in the country, observed that DMR’s structure – which features integration of practice areas – also is an allegory for diversity.

This firm’s cultural diversity is mirrored in the varied skill sets and levels of the team – and its business thrives as a result.

“In our environment, the blending of diverse professional foci is beneficial to serving our clients and to our employees’ career advancement.  It is perfectly natural that the backgrounds of our people would contribute to our culture of performance.”

There are 14 different countries of birth for DMR employees, and when their parents’ places of birth are added in, the total of 26 countries of origin is an extraordinary representation at a firm of just 45 employees.

“Architecture today should reflect inclusivity that goes beyond ADA compliance; it should have cultural compliance.  We want everyone to feel seen and heard and comfortable being themselves.”

Just as cross-practice interaction has led to outcomes that far surpassed what one mindset would achieve, cross-cultural collaborations garner far more creativity than if the firm were more homogenous.

“We’ve created the workplace composition that is necessary to get today’s projects done in a way that will continue to be relevant for generations.”

DMR Dimensions – 30th Anniversary Edition

DMR Dimensions – 30th Anniversary Edition 2000 1125 DMR Architects

On July 15, 1991, a team of four opened DMR Architects. Led by Lloyd Rosenberg, AIA, the group set off first to find a client and a project, then on to building the firm as we know it today. Since then, we’ve designed thousands of projects valued at billions of dollars in construction work. We’ve worked right in our own backyard and across the world in China, Costa Rica, Nigeria and Romania. We’ve designed elementary schools, luxury lofts, downtown master plans, police stations, modern offices, and renovations to an elementary school forced to close following Superstorm Sandy. We’ve seen technology and trends come and go, but we’ve always maintained our commitment to inspire through functional and aesthetically pleasing design. In our anniversary issue of DMR Dimensions, we recap the latest DMR news, and also look back on many of our most significant professional milestones and projects over the years.

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

DMR eyes continued growth, pipeline diversity as 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 NJ, he knows how to break all the rules

To get things done in NJ, 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

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.

This article originally appeared in Meadowlands Magazine. 

Introducing the DMR Foundation

Introducing the DMR Foundation 789 444 DMR Architects

Today we are excited to announce the establishment of the DMR Foundation.

Since 1991, we have seen our work have a profound impact on the communities we serve. Just as we have delivered the visions and physical infrastructure that have provided critical programs, paved the way for economic growth and improved quality of life, we have turned our clients into friends, joining them in support of their civic and philanthropic efforts.

To that end, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary by expanding our charitable efforts. The establishment of the DMR Foundation will allow us to expand our support of the services that are most important to our neighbors, ensuring that we continue to grow together.

DMR Honored with CIANJ Environmental Leadership Medal

DMR Honored with CIANJ Environmental Leadership Medal 789 444 DMR Architects

On April 26 DMR was among those to receive a 2019 Environmental Leadership Medal from the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) at its celebration of environmental leadership in the business community. The inaugural awards program celebrated environmentally-friendly companies that have demonstrated leadership in sustainability. DMR was honored in the category of green leadership, which recognized the firm for having a commitment to sustainability at the management level.

DMR has been at the forefront of sustainability and sustainable design in New Jersey for more than 15 years. The firm was one of the earliest to embrace LEED certification, with the first of its professionals receiving certification in 2003. This commitment led to the creation of a Director of Sustainable Design position, one that is still fulfilled by the same person, a Partner of the firm, today. The firm also designed Carlstadt Elementary School, the first LEED Silver public school in New Jersey and the first LEED certified building in Bergen County, a catalyst to a portfolio of LEED certified buildings that now includes five Gold, Silver and Certified level projects, with several more on the boards to receive certification in 2019.

Pictured above, from left to right, are Francis Reiner, CIANJ President Anthony Russo, and Lloyd Rosenberg.

How DMR Architects took ‘design’ into multiple business areas

How DMR Architects took ‘design’ into multiple business areas 2000 1125 DMR Architects

In our continuing series of interviews with members of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate’s Advisory Board and Emerging Leaders Council, Kevin Riordan (KR) of the Center sat down with Lloyd Rosenberg AIA (LR), President & CEO of DMR Architects to get his insights and perspectives on the firm and its business model.

KR: Lloyd, while your company’s name includes the word ‘Architect’, your firm is actually involved in a number of various design and planning initiatives. Please give our readers an overview of how your firm evolved and the different segments of the real estate business you currently serve.

LR: Given my background as an architect, the firm started out in 1991 with that as its primary focus. However, an interesting confluence of events began to occur which caused our company to expand beyond our basic discipline of architecture. First, we recognized that our clients were not singularly focused on delivering solely built environments, but rather, we saw there were opportunities to work with our clients to build, expand and plan entire communities and environments. We were able to build on this and expand into planning. We expanded into sustainable design in a similar way. Members of our staff were some of the earliest to embrace sustainable design, which led us to designing the first LEED Silver public school in New Jersey. While I am proud that we have been able to watch trends and expand our capabilities in that way, adding talented staff has been a large part of our growth as well. I think we offer a very uniquely qualified and diversely talented staff, and that has helped us take on a very diverse set of projects.

KR: So what project comes to mind where you combined these multiple disciplines to present a turnkey solution for a client?

LR: The best example I can think of would be in the City of Hackensack, where we have supported the City from both a professional planning and architectural design perspective. The planning work and its successes have been significant in downtown Hackensack, and some of these projects have required architectural support as well. Just last month, the City cut the ribbon on the new Hackensack Cultural and Performing Arts Center. This was the final phase of a four-phase project that brought a public park and cultural arts center to the downtown. In addition to serving as the redevelopment planner, DMR designed the park and the Cultural and Performing Arts Centers.

KR: 1991 was a bad time for real estate. So tell us your thought process on starting a company in an environment where not only credit but RFP’s from building owners and developers were not piled high on your desk.

LR: Well let’s start by clarifying that 1991 was not just a bad time for real estate, the sector was in a depression. So my thought was ‘it can’t get any worse from here’ and we started the company. Something is always happening in real estate. At the time it was tenant retention; less value creation. And since we were a much smaller organization at the time, we could afford to take on some projects at breakeven levels of profitability just to establish our name. There was also a change in ownership of properties due to foreclosures, which opened up a new group of potential clients. Looking back, I don’t think we were calling a bottom to the cycle but we were pretty close to it. And to add to the previous question, the addition of the different services has allowed us to diversify our revenue over the cycles.

KR: Is it simply a diversification model that has led to DMR’s success or can you point to other factors?

LR: Experience is certainly a good factor to have continued success. But the additional capabilities of the firm have helped brand us that we can provide turnkey solutions for clients. But what I see as a source to grow our brand has been our willingness to embrace challenges that were not necessarily within our bandwidth. For example, we designed the train station for the spur link to the sports complex in the Meadowlands. Since we never did something like that before, I think it energized the staff. And that engagement has now enabled us to be the designer of the train station in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

KR: Staying with trains for a moment, what are you trying to achieve with your station design in Bloomfield?

LR: If you know this station, you know that the platforms are about 20 feet above grade. So the first issue that must be addressed is accessibility. And while people need and want accessibility, they will also want it to be convenient. The Township of Bloomfield, which owns this station, wants an aesthetic to the site. So given the significant development around the station, we have to incorporate both current structures as well as future projects. Those requirements serve DMR well since we are designing both the existing building as the environment it is in. Finally, the station has to be comfortable. This will probably not be limited to just padded benches. Again, while this type of project may have challenging aspects, it is also the type the team gets excited about.

KR: You have been in business 26 years. You started out as three employees and now have more than 40. You have expanded your lines of business as you have seen an increase in the scope of services required. So what are the challenges to your business? What is rewarding?

LR: First and foremost is retaining employees. When you are a service provider, staff longevity and experience provide prospective clients the confidence to check that box. As clients have sought solutions for projects that are both the built structure as well as its surrounding environment, it has become very important to manage the expectations of your client. As you add complexity or even more entities to work on a project, unforeseen results can occur. This is particularly acute as the clients are more informed also. Since we have become more involved in community planning, it is rewarding to see the energy and enthusiasm the staff expends on these assignments. It may be a result that someone either lives in that community or near it or knows a person who lives in it and a connection is created. Other times it is simply seeing the completion of a project knowing that one + one equals three.

KR: Lloyd, great spending time with you and providing some insight to the design and planning business.

This article originally appeared in Rutgers Center for Real Estate – Blog.

Making Partner

Making Partner

Making Partner 960 540 DMR Architects

By Lloyd A. Rosenberg, AIA

The firm I founded in 1991, DMR Architects, belongs to six of us a result of naming the first of what I expect will be many partners.

The profession of architecture has spawned many compensation structures and equity arrangements, but it is probably fair to say that if a firm is going to invite partnership, it does so sooner than 25 years. So why now?

DMR generously rewards innovation and productivity and as a result we enjoy strong employee retention and company morale. Our wonderful company culture is always evolving and at this point in our history needed an aura of leadership that is prospectively eternal and needed to expand beyond one person. And then, after going through the process of contemplating where to begin sharing the firm, I realized that “making partner” is not just a recognition by the firm of the team member attaining an elevated value as a result of their contributions. Making partner happens because the firm itself creates an environment that encourages personal growth for its employees and has committed to a system of promotion that goes all the way to the top. Under that criteria, when I considered whom to name a partner, I realized I could make a case for almost everyone at the firm. And thereby began a difficult process of identifying a first set of partners who could act as mentors for other team members, resulting in the first five “making partner” and providing a path for the rest.

The new partners have committed to incorporating into our value system a process of continuing to make new partners, which will take on a life of its own. As a profession, architecture evades a simple metric for who drives the success of the firm. For example, while law firms are collaborative places, their nature is quite different from an architectural firm, where contributions to the end product come from a diverse set of professionals inside of and outside of the firm; and the regulatory and professional controls are applied in a variety of environments. Our billing routines are also unique to our profession. Like law firms, we like rainmakers and we like workhorses, but we don’t limit the measure of the team member’s value to those criteria. For example, we recognize that the contributions made by our in-house legal, finance, new business development and marketing people are invaluable to the operation of the firm.

So what “makes” a partner? At DMR, the common thread is that they treated the firm like owners before they owned it, but the other aspects vary a surprising amount. In varying proportions our new partners are old-hands, younger-hands, extroverts, introverts, scholars, warriors, romantics and empire-builders in varying proportions, among many other attributes.

If it is puzzling why it would take me 25 years to make partners and now I have made five partners and am looking forward to considering more, it’s because the process of inviting our first set of shareholders has been an epiphany to me of what makes DMR work: which is that many of our people feel like they own the place and are willing to do what it takes to help us advance as a firm.

Bergen architectural firm seizes big opportunities, thrives on a challenge

Bergen architectural firm seizes big opportunities, thrives on a challenge 960 540 DMR Architects

by Linda Moss

Architect Lloyd Rosenberg was undaunted when plans for a nearly $1 billion commercial development in Ridgefield Park had to be dramatically reconfigured to accommodate Al and Alice, a pair of bald eagles.

“We had to redesign the whole project,” said Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights. “It’s just part of what we have to do … It’s not unusual.”

DMR has done extensive work in North Jersey, where the only land left to develop often poses environmental or wildlife-conservation challenges, be it protecting eagles or bog turtles, according to Rosenberg. If you live in the region, odds are pretty good that you’ve set eyes on at least one place or project DMR has worked on, be it a hospital like Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, the Meadowlands rail station, downtown Hackensack’s redevelopment or the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel.

This year, booming DMR, the fourth-largest architectural firm in the state in terms of staff size, is busy with two big projects. It is architect and planner for SkyMark, a Ridgefield Park development — in the works for two decades — that will include about 1,500 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space and a 300-room hotel when its final phase is complete. Construction on the project, dubbed “Eagle’s Nest” by some, is finally expected to begin this spring. And work is continuing on Hudson County’s new $144 million High Tech High School in Secaucus, designed by DMR. The final steel beam was installed last week at the site, 22 acres adjacent to Laurel Hill County Park. The 350,000-square-foot facility is slated to open in September next year.

A third DMR project, the $10 million transformation of the former Nets basketball team’s training center in East Rutherford to the home of the Meadowlands Area YMCA, opens in April.

Buoyed by such undertakings, and the economy’s recovery, DMR enjoyed a banner year in 2016, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. The firm, which has about 100 projects in various stages, saw its projected revenue last year climb about 84 percent to $9.8 million from $5.3 million in 2015. So it could accommodate its increased workload, last year DMR added nine employees, bringing its staff roster to 39. And last week, for the first time, DMR named five partners, Rosenberg said, to spread management duties and to lay a foundation for his succession.

New high school was a boon

DMR founder Rosenberg, who turned 74 last week, said the firm got a big boost last year because work on the regional high school in Hudson County got off the ground, a project being bankrolled by the county and the state. He acknowledged that DMR suffered some bad years, most notably during the Great Recession, and cited the cyclical nature of his business in explaining why 2016 was stellar.

“The real estate market was strong in New Jersey,” Rosenberg said. “The municipalities we work with felt confident to go out and have their facilities improved. The private developers – low-interest rate, greater demand, increased values – they became strong. The reason we’re so successful is we have a very diverse practice. So we do private work. We do schools and colleges. We do public facilities, police stations and municipal buildings. We do office buildings. We do healthcare … We have a diverse practice, and all of the sectors in the market sort of increased volume.”

That’s the strategy behind having a full-service architectural practice, according to Rosenberg.

“We anticipate at times one sector is going to go down, and one sector is going to go up,” he said. “This particular year [2016] everybody went up.

Consequently, we did better and we hired more people.”

DMR’s recent growth appears to have been outpacing its peers. The American Institute of Architects tracks billings nationally and regionally through its Architecture Billings Index, or ABI , said Ben Lee, the new president of the group’s New Jersey chapter and chief financial officer for NK Architects in Morristown. In November, the index was 50.6 nationally and 50.8 for the Northeast, according to Lee. Anything above 50 represents an increase in billings. Referring to the Northeast’s performance, he said, “It’s good, but it’s not moving a full digit.”

Eagle issue resolved at SkyMark

The SkyMark center rivals American Dream Meadowlands, the massive retail-entertainment complex being built in the East Rutherford Meadowlands, in terms of its delays.

“We’ve owned this property since 1999,” said Tony Noce, development manager for Paramus-based SkyMark Development Co. “It was originally going to be developed as office but now it’s mixed use and it’s just a complex project … We’ve done all the environmental remediation. There was an eagle’s nest. We had to get major infrastructure improvements approved with the N.J. DOT [Department of Transportation] and the Turnpike Authority to provide access to the site. All these things take a lot of time to get.”

As the architect and planner, Rosenberg said DMR had the task of reworking SkyMark’s plans to create a five-acre buffer to protect the two eagles and their nest.

Ultimately, the plan approved by federal officials will carve out an 11-acre eagle preserve on the southern end of the SkyMark property, taking up about 20 percent of the 55-acre site, Noce said. SkyMark will be built at the crossroads of the New Jersey Turnpike and routes 46 and 80.

Noce said he and developer Ralph Ianuzzi Jr. are in the final stages of putting together SkyMark’s financing. They are slated to meet with the Ridgefield Park village board of commissioners this week to update them on the project, according to Mayor George Fosdick. Noce said he expects construction to start in late spring.

Police headquarters projects 

This year construction on another one of DMR’s projects, a $7 million Garfield police station, is also slated to begin. The current headquarters on Midland Avenue, constructed in 1960,  is “woefully undersized” for the 66-member police force and “was built for another era,” City Manager Thomas Duch said. Local police headquarters have become another DMR area of expertise, according to Rosenberg.

Originally, plans were for another architecture firm to design the new Garfield police headquarters. However, city officials gave DMR the job after they were “impressed” by a presentation by Rosenberg, as well as by his design work at the Bergen County Public Safety Operations Center in Mahwah, according to Duch.

“Many of these police stations now are outdated,” Rosenberg said. “They don’t have the current technology. Their facilities are not safe. They’re not habitable.”

Rosenberg said it’s hard to make forecasts for this year, but that he thinks President Trump will be effective helping the business community and stimulating the economy, especially in the tri-state region.

“I hope that he does the things that he said he’s going to do with infrastructure and public work and hospitals and schools,” Rosenberg said. “We do live in his geographic area.”

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