University Performing Arts Center Unveiled in Jersey City

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop just announced the newest phase of development on New Jersey City University’s University Place project, Jersey Digs reports. The University and Strategic Development Group will break ground in early 2019 on University PAC, a state-of-the-art performing arts complex. University PAC, a 500-seat theater, and the Center for Music, Dance and Theater, a cutting-edge academic complex for the performing arts will serve as the centerpiece of University Place, serving both the university and the larger community.

The 22-acre University Place will contain retail, commercial, and residential space (including a residence hall) as well as the University PAC, the Center for Music, Dance and Theater and outdoor performance space. According to Anthony V. Bastardi, chairman and CEO of Strategic Development Group, the $400 million plan is aimed at creating a college town atmosphere.

For years, these properties have been underutilized, explained Bastardi, who holds an undergraduate degree from Stevens Institute of Technology and a masters from Columbia University. Im the big picture guy on these projects. Quite often, university leadership does not have the time nor experience to focus on underutilized real assets. When I look at land, I dont see what is. I see what can be.

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Bastardi is known as the brains behind University Place: Im the big picture guy on these projects. Quite often, university leadership does not have the time nor experience to focus on underutilized real assets. When I look at land, I dont see what is. I see what can be.

When finished, the 22-acre University Place will feature retail, commercial, and residential components that will generate ratables for the city, as well as university facilities including a residence hall; the new University PAC and Center for Music, Dance and Theater; and outdoor performance space. The goal of the $400 million plan is to create a college town atmosphere, according to Bastardi.

According to a press release, a world-renowned ballet school has shown a strong interest in bringing its operations to the planned new facilities. The school has been working with the NJCU administration and faculty to offer its students–as well as NJCU students–a BFA in Dance.

Urban universities have a special relationship with the cities we call home. Unlike rural or even suburban campuses, we are not islands unto ourselves but woven over time into the fabric of neighborhoods, a physical and spiritual symbiosis of place.

As active community citizens, city universities are engaged in local issues, both as private residents and the sum of them, as institutions. Very often, we shape the defining characteristics of our built environment, providing the cultural, recreational and intellectual essence of where we live.  

New Jersey City University (NJCU) and other urban universities like it derive much from the cities in their midst. Local businesses provide jobs and internships for our students as well as support our academic, athletic and cultural programs. Many students look to the city for housing and for a range of recreational activities. And we take advantage of local shops and eateries as well as the many services that city government provides.

According to a release, a world-renowned ballet school has expressed its strong desire to move its operations to NJCU at these proposed new facilities and has been collaborating with the NJCU administration and faculty to offer its students and NJCU students a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance.

As much as we receive, we also have an obligation to contribute, to leverage our resources and direct our vision in ways that enhance the citys quality of life. Its part and parcel of our commitment to social responsibility. As Americas cities struggle with a range of challenges — crime and poverty, housing, stagnant economic development, cultural deserts — urban universities can work to become part of the solution, even as we focus on the needs of our students.

Almost two decades ago, NJCU set out on a path that went beyond our own needs and ambitions. While we recognized the imperative of growing our West Side footprint — a part of the city that was not experiencing the corporate boon along the Hudson riverfront to the east — we did not take on these growth plans with an entirely inward focus. Rather, the university engaged both the city and private developers to develop a symbiotic plan that would help the city address some of its more pressing issues.

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Years of collective thinking and planning ultimately led to the creation of University Place, a 21-acre mixed-use development that is already on its way to becoming an innovative and versatile resource for both NJCU and the community as a whole. The academic village not only provides much-needed student housing, but importantly, market-rate apartments for local residents who are not enrolled in the university.

The Center and University PAC will be the flagship and centerpiece of University Place and will serve both NJCU and the community at large.

With real estate prices and rents skyrocketing in red-hot Jersey City over the past few years, our public-private partnership (P3) has been able to help ease the burden on city residents by building modern, amenity-rich apartments with competitive monthly rents. And not incidentally, because of the structure of this partnership, we are doing so without burdening our students with the costs. When it is complete, University Place will feature five residential buildings, constructed amid a tree-lined, brick-paved boulevard and a public plaza large enough to host outdoor concerts and other community events.

Anthony V. Bastardi, Chairman and CEO of Strategic Development Group is credited as the mastermind behind University Place.

“As much as we receive, we also have an obligation to contribute, to leverage our resources and direct our vision in ways that enhance the citys quality of life. Its part and parcel of our commitment to social responsibility.”

Our commitment to Jersey City will not stop there. University Place is designed to tackle other abiding issues in our part of the city. As part of the development, for example, we are exploring retail opportunities that will help address the lack of a nearby major grocery store in what is today an urban food desert. With a mix of other retail on the ground floor of the apartments, the district should become a vibrant mixed-use development.

The P3 structure of the development also provides for the construction of the projects crown jewel, the universitys Center for Music, Dance and Theater, a performance hall that will be accessible to students and city residents alike. And heres the particularly exciting part: The performing arts center is being paid for entirely by the private developers who are leveraging the rent and lease payments from the residential-retail halls.

That means the cost of development will fall neither on the backs of our students — 70% of whom are eligible for federal Pell grants — nor on taxpayers. In return, we have a new performing arts classroom for our students as well as a new performance hall for the Jersey City community. The upshot not only represents P3 at its best, but social responsibility at its best as well.    

Our collective pride in all that University Place is becoming has less to do with the physical transformation of 21 acres of what was once a chromium-laden factory site into a vibrant live-work-play district. What we are most proud of is the undercurrent of social responsibility that has driven this project.

From the outset, we assumed a posture of collaboration with the city, and we have worked hand in glove with local leaders to ensure that NJCU is helping solve local challenges and contributing to the quality of life that all of us enjoy. Its a commitment to social responsibility — to our city, our community and our students — that only an urban university can make.


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