Remembering Marc Berson, ‘First-Class Gentleman’ and a Giant in Business, Philanthropy

Marc E. Berson

By Joshua Burd

It was 15 years ago that Marc Berson issued a challenge to Angelo Genova: If you genuinely believe in Newark, make the city your business home.

As Genova recalled, it was true to form for a man who “never flinched in his dedication to the city of his birth.” And it should come as no surprise that Genova was persuaded, opting to move his law firm from suburban Essex County and become a partner as Berson, his friend and client, set out to renovate a major office building in the north end of Newark’s downtown.

“Marc’s enthusiasm and optimism for all things Newark was contagious,” said Genova, the chairman of Genova Burns LLC, citing Berson’s advocacy for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark Beth Israel Hospital and the district around what’s now Harriet Tubman Park.

“This was a man that truly knew who he was at his core and never forgot his roots,” he added. “Despite his larger-than-life successes, he possessed great humility.”

RELATED: Marc Berson, revered philanthropist, developer and champion for Newark, dies at 79

Genova is among the many business and commercial real estate leaders who are paying tribute to Berson, the revered philanthropist and business magnate, recalling a man of the highest character and modesty despite his vast success and influence in the state. Berson, the chairman of Millburn-based Fidelco Group, died Saturday at age 79 after a six-decade career as a lawyer, entrepreneur and real estate investor, one that was marked by his efforts to revitalize Newark and his support of health care, the arts and a host of other causes.

“His first desire was to help,” said Frank Giantomasi of Roseland-based Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, a longtime friend of and attorney for Berson. “He really just thought his charge was to help people in any way he could.”

Giantomasi, a Newark native in his own right, said Berson’s “business acumen and success are legendary.” So were his philanthropic efforts, but those “were only outnumbered by the sheer volume of interpersonal relationship assists that he would do on a weekly basis.”

“Marc was just as eager to take a phone call when someone would say ‘I have a sick cousin’ or ‘I need some help with this particular problem’ as he was with taking on a large challenge like an NJPAC or the hospital,” said Giantomasi, whose relationship with Berson spanned more than 30 years.

Berson was “a first-class gentleman,” who sought no attention for all the good he did, Giantomasi added. Other business leaders offered similar reflections, including Real Estate NJ Publisher Paul Profeta, who knew Berson for more than 60 years going back to their time on the swim team at Columbia High School in Maplewood.

The fellow longtime real estate investor and philanthropist said Berson was “a truly wonderful person who was always willing to give back for any worthwhile cause.”

“There is a law in the Talmud called Tzedaka which encourages religious Jews to do charitable works anonymously,” said Profeta, president of Paul V. Profeta & Associates. “Marc followed that principle all his life. Many of us will never know some of the wonderful things he has done for others in need.”

Berson’s professional life began with a 20-year career as a successful lawyer. As the leader of Fidelco, which he founded in 1981, he was an active investor in residential, commercial and industrial properties requiring rehabilitation, repositioning or environmental remediation, often focusing on Newark and other overlooked inner-city neighborhoods throughout the country.

That was on display in the firm’s 2004 purchase and subsequent renovation of One Washington Park, a 400,000-square-foot office tower in Newark, resulting in a new home for Rutgers Business School and what would become the headquarters of Audible. Fidelco has also invested in key properties such as 494 Broad St., the office complex that became home to what is now Genova Burns, as well as Audible’s Innovation Cathedral.

More recently, Fidelco partnered with Elberon Development Group to build a modern 140,000-square-foot FreezPak cold storage facility in Elizabeth and Newark.

“For over 50 years Marc Berson was a visionary in New Jersey’s real estate industry,” Elberon Chairman Anne Evans Estabrook and CEO and President Dave Gibbons said in a joint statement Sunday. “He was a good and broad thinker and always completely honest and reliable. His character was rock solid and beyond reproach, consistent with his well-earned reputation. He loved delving into new real estate projects, and he excelled at it.”

“Elberon Development Group, also a 50-plus-year old New Jersey family real estate company, was blessed to have him as our partner in recent years,” the executives added. “Both our organizations valued family. He was proud to say that his children were an integral part of his success. We shall sorely miss him.”

Berson’s impact in business was matched only by his work with community institutions such as RWJBarnabas Health. He served as board chair of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where he was born, and of both Children’s Hospital of New Jersey and Barnabas Health when the latter merged with Robert Wood Johnson Health System, creating the largest in New Jersey.

With NJPAC, he was a founding trustee whose role as real estate chair was critical to the growth of the downtown Newark venue.

“He was indispensable to us as a volunteer leader,” NJPAC CEO John Schreiber told ROI-NJ. “Whenever I called him — and I called him all hours of the day — he was there for us.”

Specifically, Schreiber pointed to One Theatre Square, the luxury apartment tower that sits across from NJPAC and has helped anchor the area by adding residents.

“Without Marc Berson, One Theater Square doesn’t get to the finish line,” Schreiber said. “He willed it to completion. He just felt so strongly about us and our mission and about Newark.”

In an obituary Saturday, Fidelco noted that Berson was proudest of his role as a co-founder of Opportunity Project Inc., the nonprofit that provides programs and support for survivors of brain injury.

“Marc was a giver,” Genova said, noting that his devotion to the organization “was palpable.”

“He leaves a legacy of business and legal acumen few can rival. I, like scores of others, will miss him — as will our state and Newark, the city he loved.”


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Author: Joshua Burd