by David Winzelberg
Published: December 7, 2012
Long Island Business News
Marc Spector, along with his brother Scott, lead Woodbury-based Spector Group, the prolific architecture firm founded by their father, Michael, 47 years ago. The award-winning company has completed over 1,500 projects in 12 states, five foreign countries and on four continents. It serves a global clientele with offices in Manhattan, Abu Dhabi, UAE; and Mumbai, India; and affiliates in London and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One of its next projects will be close to home. Spector is part of the redevelopment team recently chosen by Nassau County to transform the area around the Nassau Coliseum.
How will design play an important role in the redevelopment of the Nassau Hub and the Coliseum? The design is broken up into two particulars. There’s master planning, which is the overall site and componentry associated with the site, and determining the highest and best use for the location, circulation patterns, anything that’s related to a master plan, and obviously you’re looking at that from 30,000 feet looking down. As that begins to develop, architecture then gets created for each particular use. Now the uses for this particular site are still in discussion. The purpose of having the county put out [a request for qualifications] instead of [a request for proposals] was to work with the community and work with the county collectively to determine what actually is going to happen on that site. So it’s a little different from what the Lighthouse project was, which was an RFP. It was a much more intelligent move to select a qualified team without any preconceived notion of what’s going to be put on the site.
What effect does the idea of sustainability have on building design today? Sustainability is everything. All the work that comes out of Spector Group has a sustainable component associated with it no matter what. Different projects require a different level of sustainability. Ultimately, we are moving in a direction where you’re not going to be required to have LEED certification. It’s just going to be the norm that you’re going to develop a sustainable, green building.
How has the economic downturn affected your business? The downturn affected everybody’s business, no matter what industry. The Spector Group, because we are so diverse in the different buckets of business that we operate in, we weathered the storm fairly well. When one particular project type dipped, others went up, so we maintained a balanced equilibrium for both the Long Island office and the New York City office.
Did the company downsize? We absolutely became more efficient. I think the downturn taught businesses that you can survive better with less. We have since replenished and have actually been hiring additional people through 2012, so our staffing levels are the highest they’ve been since 2009.
Is the green building movement a bunch of hype or a real shift in how things are constructed? It’s absolutely real and in the market and it’s something that we strive to do, but everybody’s become better at it. The contractors understand green building technologies more than they did in prior years, so there’s not any substantial markup at this point. Everybody is used to it, so it’s much easier.
More than anyone else, engineers and architects have firsthand experience with the usually laborious permitting process here, which you’ve said is the largest obstacle in getting more design work on Long Island. What can be done to speed things up? We’re so heavy in terms of levels of approvals in these different municipalities it’s hard to get anything built. Levels of government slow the process down. There is no master lead agency that can grant approval of a large project. Larger projects that are the game-changers on Long Island get caught up in municipal approval and risk dying on the vine just because we can’t get off the dime. That needs to change. I think that the larger projects should be governed differently. If you’re doing a large project in Nassau or Suffolk counties, the county executive of those two counties should have a say in the process.
So then you’re in favor of having the state Department of Environmental Conservation be the lead agency for projects of regional significance?
Yes, but only for large projects of regional significance that have too much local emotion affecting decision making.
How do you feel about allowing certified professionals to approve plans and do pre-building inspections to take the pressure off building department staff? We’re the architect for building approvals in the Town of North Hempstead. We’ve been doing it for years. We expedite approvals for the town and it’s worked beautifully for those coming in seeking approvals. Rather than something taking 14 or 16 weeks, we turn it around in two weeks. We have helped the system move forward and helped the town get through its inventory of projects that want to get built. If other places adopted this, it would help the smaller developer, builder or homeowner get through the process. Again, the much larger projects, it wouldn’t apply to. But for the bread-and-butter projects, the municipalities should supplement most of the work with private engineers and architects.