Marc Berson — lawyer, developer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, favorite son of Newark — died Saturday. He was 79.
Berson is best known as the chair of the Fidelco Group, which he founded in 1981, but he will be most remembered for his impact across the state — particularly in Newark.
Ray Chambers, a longtime close friend and business partner and noted philanthropist in his own right, gave Berson the highest of accolades.
“Marc has singularly changed the appearance and function of Newark’s downtown,” he said. “There is no one whom I respect more than Marc.”
Fidelco, which owns and operates residential, commercial, retail and industrial properties in New Jersey (as well as New York, Florida and Ohio), found great success developing distinct properties in overlooked inner-city neighborhoods.
But it was Newark, Berson’s birthplace, that always held a special place in his heart, serving as the center of Berson’s civic and philanthropic endeavors. His most recent effort, announced in August, epitomized his love for the city.
Fidelco, in partnership with Audible and =space, is making office space available for entrepreneurs who want to work — and live — in Newark.
Of course, Berson’s impact goes far beyond real estate. He also was well known for his efforts in health care, including a longtime relationship with RWJBarnabas Health.
Berson recently ended his role as chair of the board, a position he had held since 2019. He also served as chairman of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, both RWJBarnabas Health facilities.
More so, Berson served as chair of Barnabas Health in 2016, when the merger of Barnabas Health and Robert Wood Johnson Health System formed RWJBarnabas Health. RWJBarnabas Health has since grown into a $6.5 billion health system, which routinely captures national awards for outstanding quality and safety, and its partnership with Rutgers University has formed New Jersey’s largest academic health care system.
“It is a sad day for RWJBarnabas Health,” RWJBH CEO Mark Manigan told ROI-NJ. “Marc’s contributions to the success of our organization are numerous, and it would not be an overstatement to say that he was one of the primary architects of RWJBarnabas Health.
“Marc’s terms as board chair for both the health system and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center are prime examples of how he lived a life of service for the betterment of our community.”
Then there’s this: Berson was always ready, willing and eager to help others.
Manigan said he sought him out when he took over as head of RWJBH at the beginning of the year.
“His counsel and support were of great importance to me as I made the transition,” he said.
Berson’s philanthropic efforts seemingly were endless.
After one of his children suffered a traumatic brain injury, he helped create Opportunity Project in 1993, with the goal of filling a significant gap in community services for individuals with brain injury. These families discovered that, while excellent acute medical care and rehabilitation services were available, there was an absence of effective transitional and reintegration services within the community.
Their extensive research resulted in the identification of a nationally recognized program — the Clubhouse model of community support.
When it was founded, Opportunity Project served five members. Since then, it has served more than 600 individuals affected by traumatic brain injury and their families — and now has a 14,000-square-foot facility in Millburn.
Berson has called Opportunity Project his proudest accomplishment.
He also was a huge fan and supporter of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where he was a founding trustee.
NJPAC CEO John Schreiber also noted Berson’s willingness to give.
“He was indispensable to us as a volunteer leader,” he told ROI-NJ. “Whenever I called him — and I called him all hours of the day — he was there for us.”
One project in particular came to the forefront for Schreiber: One Theatre Square, the multifamily project 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.”
Berson also was key to NJPAC becoming the master developer of the new Lionsgate film and TV studio — a project will bring hundreds of jobs to his home city and will help New Jersey.
Berson’s business acumen was as strong as any developer in the state.
Under Berson’s leadership, Fidelco has been an active investor in residential, commercial and industrial properties requiring rehabilitation, repositioning and/or environmental remediation, for the benefit of local communities. Berson oversaw the renovation of the 400,000-square-foot 1 Washington Park office tower and worked hand-in-hand with Rutgers University to build a world-class business school, housed within the high-rise.
Additionally, Fidelco developed award-winning projects like the 494 Broad St. office complex and parking garage anchored by Cablevision in Newark, Audible’s Innovation Cathedral headquarters and the state-of-the-art, 140,000-square-foot FreezPak freezer warehouse facility in Elizabeth/Newark.
Fidelso also is leading renovation efforts on the Fidelco-owned 550 Broad St. building in Newark, a historic location that will once again hold a position of prominence in the great city.
Gov. Phil Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy said they were saddened to hear the news about Berson, who gave so much to causes near and dear to his heart, they said.
“Our hearts go out to Marc’s family and friends during this difficult time,” they said in a statement.
A Jersey guy through and through, Berson graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood (Class of 1962), received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University – New Brunswick (Class of 1965) and his J.D. from Rutgers School of Law in Newark in 1968.
Schreiber remembered Berson as being as humble as they come.
“He was remarkably understated,” he said. “I often would think to myself, if Marc Berson decided to turn up the volume on Marc Berson, he would have had a much bigger public presence.
“But that wasn’t him. He didn’t seek that out. He never wanted to be center stage, because that’s not why he did what he did. He did it because he loved New Jersey, he loved Newark and he believed in the future of the city.”
Berson is survived by his wife, Randi Berson, of 41 years; sister, Jane (Berson) Wisner; children, Lora Hersh (Jeff Hersh), Gary Berson (Ronald Valdez), Kerri Berson Levine (Jared Levine); and six grandchildren.