HALIFAX — Halifax businessman and philanthropist Dr. Jim Spatz will be the honoured guest at the 2014 Jewish National Fund Negev Dinner May 22.
Proceeds from the gala event will be directed to the Jim Spatz Bike Path at Tel Aviv’s Independence Park, the first time JNF will have a project in Tel Aviv. Journalist and linguist Rex Murphy will be keynote speaker.
Spatz, 65, the son of Holocaust survivors, arrived with his parents at Halifax’s Pier 21 in 1949 at age 11 months. He graduated from Dalhousie University’s medical school and was a general practitioner in Dartmouth, N.S. for five years before taking residency training at McGill. After 10 years working in the emergency room at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, he returned to Halifax to join the family real estate development business in 1988.
Now recognized as one of Nova Scotia’s leading real estate developers, Spatz grew up around the business started by his post-World War II immigrant father, Simon who started as a small grocer and then branched into apartment ownership, the forerunner of today’s multi-million dollar real estate empire.
“There was never any expectation that I would have to come back to the family business,” said the chair and CEO of Southwest Properties. “In fact, as he’d spend Sunday cleaning his store, my father always told me he wanted better things for me.”
Yet, as Simon Spatz grew his grocery store into building ownership and then development, he’d share information with his son, especially how he looked at the financial aspects of buildings he was considering acquiring.
“And he’d take me to his construction sites on weekends and I found that fabulously interesting. That’s what really hooked me. I became addicted to the smell of freshly poured concrete at a young age,” said Spatz. “It moved from back of mind to the front that I’d return.”
He made the transition at about age 40, moving “from doing something that I was pretty good at, to something where my significant qualification was that I was the boss’s son.”
He continued to learn from his dad, a man then in his mid-70s, who worked into his 80s.
Today, the doctor-turned-developer has expanded the company’s portfolio and geographic reach. Spatz has led the company in the development and acquisition of investment property throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond, increasing Southwest’s size in terms of both assets and revenue by more than 10-fold.
He has been involved in community activities for decades, both Jewish and secular.
“He’s been a wonderful supporter of the Atlantic Jewish Council and the State of Israel,” said AJC executive director Jon Goldberg. “He’s been a member of our board and management committee for many years and has been on several AJC missions to Israel.”
Halifax lawyer Victor Goldberg, a past chair of AJC, worked for more than 10 years as Camp Kadimah co-chair with Spatz.
“I did the grunt work but Jim’s keen eye for detail and love for the environment meant he was great for our physical plant and camp beautification,” Goldberg said. “On each trip to Israel, his interest in ‘green’ projects was evident, the projects you think of when you think of JNF.”
Spatz is the perfect honoree for the JNF dinner because of that interest, said Goldberg.
A self-admitted perfectionist, Spatz added, “growing up in the house of immigrants, my parents always hated waste. That’s carried on to my business philosophy. My father always built using good materials that would last for a long time, and always aimed for good energy efficiency.”
Southwest’s recent award of LEED Gold for The Grainery Lofts, the first multi-unit building east of Montreal to gain that designation for meeting LEED sustainability standards, is “a continuation of how my father developed his building, always aiming for efficient buildings with high life-cycle value.”
He grew up with a sense of gratitude for being in Canada and the Halifax community. His parents instilled in him the understanding that those who can, should give back.
Spatz sits on the board of the Beth Israel Synagogue. He is a lifetime director of Halifax’s Neptune Theatre and, in 2010, was appointed by Premier Darrell Dexter to serve on the Premier’s Advisory Council on the Economy. He is also an active participant of the World Presidents’ Organization.
In 2014, Spatz will conclude a five-year term as chair of the board of governors at Dalhousie University, following his appointment to the board in 2001.
He has funded the Simon and Riva Spatz Chair in Jewish Studies, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Dalhousie. The program in Jewish Studies will start in 2015-2016.
The Spatz Theatre at Citadel High School in Halifax was dedicated in his family’s name three years ago.
“It’s a great honour that JNF is recognizing me [at the first JNF dinner in Halifax in 18 years],” said Spatz. “I’m thrilled to help re-launch the dinner, and hope it’s not another 18 years before there’s another one.”
Tickets for the dinner are available through JNF Atlantic Co-ordinator Sue David at Atlantic@JNF.ca or 902-444-4563.