Guarini’s impact on Jersey City — and at NJCU — cannot be overstated

NJCU President Sue Henderson with former U.S. Rep. Frank Guarini.

When the financing fell just a bit short for the performing arts center that was envisioned not only as an anchor for New Jersey City University, but the west side of Jersey City, Sue Henderson knew where to turn.

Henderson, the highly regarded president of the school who has helped elevate its status in so many ways, turned to Frank Guarini, who has proven to be both a mentor and a benefactor to Henderson and the school over the years.

“He always encourages me to think about how we can make sure NJCU is an anchor institution in the city,” she told ROI-NJ.

It’s why Guarini made a $10 million donation to not only complete the funding for the performing arts center, but help fund an institute of international studies. Both facilities will bear his name.

“The performing arts theater will be named for him, and we’re thrilled by that because he’s done such a great job of promoting the arts and the city,” Henderson said.

Henderson said Guarini’s gift to the arts center was most urgent — and should help the project break ground next week. It is expected to take two years to complete.

“When we put it together, the project came up a little bit short, so we went to Frank, and Frank said he would be happy to do this,” Henderson said. “It goes to his commitment to the city.

“I think he recognizes that Jersey City is a really unique place in the state because it’s incredibly diverse. We’re right across the street from Wall Street, so we have a lot of interplay there, but it’s a very vibrant city. And it’s also quite diverse.”

The center will house the Joffrey Ballet, which already is in the process of coming over from New York City.

A rendering of the planned performing arts center at New Jersey City University.

The performing arts center anchors the school’s University Place campus area, which has residences for 425 students and more than 50,000 square feet of educational space.

It also will include market-rate mixed-use facilities that will have 700 condos and 90,000 square feet of dining and retail. There also will be a grocery store. The food options will range from fast food to more upscale options.

University Place also will help support the city’s 100-acre Bayfront project.

The efforts of Guarini, a seven-term former congressman, throughout Jersey City have been well documented. Last September, he gave $10 million to Saint Peter’s University for its business school, which will be renamed for him.

Mayor Steve Fulop was very appreciative of — and not at all surprised by — Guarini’s donation to New Jersey City University.

“I wasn’t surprised when I heard that Frank was making another huge charitable donation, as his entire life has been about purpose,” Fulop told ROI-NJ.

“I can’t think of a person that has had a larger impact on Jersey City over his lifetime — from legislatively in Washington, in the private sector playing a huge part in transforming our skyline or philanthropically supporting some of our most important institutions.

“We are lucky to have someone like Frank in our city.”

File photo
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

The performing arts center project is about more than art. It figures to be an economic boost to the area, as it is projected to bring much-needed jobs and revenue streams in both the short term and the long term.

The project is expected to bring 1,950 construction jobs and more than 1,000 permanent jobs — and is estimated to bring in $19 million in state and local tax revenues.

Henderson agreed with Fulop. She said Guarini’s impact on New Jersey City University and city itself cannot be overstated. Bringing the arts, she said, is another huge step.

“The city doesn’t really have a venue for really high-quality performances,” she said. “People want to bring really high-quality performances to the city, and this venue will allow us to do it.”

It will change the landscape in the process, Henderson said.

“What you’re going to see is that this part of the city is starting to come up,” she said. “It’s a little quieter than the frenetic part. I think we’re going to find this is another vibrant part of the city and this performing arts center will help that happen.

“Frank’s money — as well as his advice on where we need to lead — has really gone a long way.”

Read more from ROI-NJ: