The Everything Jersey City Festival will Celebrate Community Pride and UEZ Support at a Time when Budget Cuts Loom
By Sally Deering
If you don’t know by now, one-third of Jersey City is a designated Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ\) a designation that offers local businesses tax and other financial incentives to help grow their businesses and stimulate local economy. Sale tax revenues generated by UEZ businesses go for economic development and neighborhood improvements like street lights, paving, flowerboxes — and other programs that give constituents a feeling of pride in their community.
To celebrate the UEZ’s success revitalizing the Heights section of Jersey City – the neighborhood nestled on the cliff above Hoboken – the Central Avenue Special Improvement District (CASID) Management Corporation presents the Everything Jersey City Festival which takes place Sat., May 21st from 11 am-to-6 pm along Central Avenue from Congress to Hutton Streets.
The Festival will feature four stages with live entertainment including Queen of Freestyle Judy Torres who has made Jersey City her home for the past 16 years, has recorded numerous CDs and is an on-air personality on WKTU radio. Torres sings Freestyle, a form of dance music with a Latin influence that became popular in the late 1980s and early 90s and her hits include “No Reason to Cry,” and “Come into my Arms.” Torres performs nation-wide and just returned from a show at the Continental Airlines Arena in Miami. She has a huge local fan base and she’s excited to be bringing her show live to her Jersey City fans for a second year.
“This is home,” Torres says. “Two weeks ago I performed at Michael Anthony’s on the waterfront; I performed at Pershing Field. There aren’t too many places in Jersey City to perform. When I did the Everything Jersey City Festival two years ago, we had a great crowd. It was a lot of fun It’s very nice to see people in the area coming out to have a good time. It’s a wonderful community celebration.”
Central Avenue will be lined with tables and tents featuring local artists showing (and selling) their work, vendors selling foods and crafts and of course, goodies from the eateries and stores that line Central Avenue. Arts groups like Pro Arts Jersey City, a non-profit community arts group that sponsors the annual Jersey City Studio Tour and Art House Productions, a 2,000-member multi-arts non-profit group are participating and several community organizations will present interactive demonstrations. Activities for kids will include a rock climbing wall, petting zoo, obstacle course, moonwalk and super slide. And for bargain-hunters, CASID has something very special planned: a huge one day sale among Central Avenue businesses (jewelry, clothing, shoes, furniture,) on the day of the Everything Jersey City Festival. Sales will offer 10% to 50% off select merchandise and festival-goers will find great bargains when business owners sell their wares at the Sidewalk Sales.
“One of the reasons for the Everything Jersey City Festival is to show how great Central Avenue is,” William Clarke, Director of CASID says. “We try to involve our business owners as much as possible. It becomes a true community event. We focus on Jersey City-Hudson County based artists and we try to focus on the creative aspects of Jersey City. You’ll see things here you won’t see anywhere else. We try to make it as unique event as possible.”
The Festival’s mission is to prove the UEZ Program builds and sustains communities, but on July 1st when the New Jersey State Budget is finalized and approved, community activities like the Everything Street Festival and many local non-profits may no longer receive UEZ funding.
“The status of the UEZ remains iffy,” Clarke says. “We won’t know for sure until the New Jersey State budget is finalized. But even if it ends in July, our organization will continue to exist. Sure it will change things, but it’s not the sole source of our organization. We’re an autonomous agency. We’ll exist no matter what.”
When Governor Chris Christie released his budget, it called for no administrative or project funding for the cities, Steve Lipski, CEO of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation says. That means there will still be a UEZ program, but no monies will be turned over to municipalities or the zones to administer programs. Businesses will still realize tax benefits but they won’t receive assistance from the zone leaders and municipalities through the monies that were collected from the UEZ and returned to the cities.
But the fight to restore funding isn’t over, Lipski says.
“We stand squarely with Mayor Healy in the fight to restore UEZ funds which are absolutely essential to help small businesses and fund essential projects critical to the city,” Lipski says. “Governor Christie sent in his version of the budget and the State Legislators are reviewing it to make their necessary input. There are budget hearings going on as we speak.”
The end of UEZ funding would have a negative impact on community organizations like Washington Park Association (WPA), says President Mory Thomas.
“The UEZ funding allows for festivals like these which brings thousands of people to the Heights and unites the community in a way that hasn’t happened for years,” Thomas says. “At the first Everything Festival, it was the first time I’d seen the community come out and be engaged in an event. For people to come out and enjoy being on the street, talking to each other and hanging out as a community, that’s something you can’t put a dollar amount to. What I would like to see from the UEZ money is more community-engagement activities.”
The Washington Park Association along with the Riverview Neighborhood Association, the Jersey City Parks Coalition and St. Anne’s School will host a special “green” event in the heart of the Everything Jersey City Festival. Amid the urban landscape of storefronts, in the middle of Central Avenue, they will create a green “Open Space” – a little park with trees and plants and benches. And there’ll be a “greening” workshop for festival-goers, too.
“During last year’s Everything Jersey City Festival, we decided that this year we would create an open space on the streets where the festival is,” Thomas says. “It will be a nice little breather in this concrete jungle we live in and bring people awareness to the issue of open space especially in Hudson County which is one of the most densely populated in the country.”
Along with headliners Judy Torres and The Black Hollies, CASID has lined up more great entertainment: Celtic Cross, Celtic folk-rockers performing classic Irish music; Rumba Con Son, Central New Jersey’s hottest salsa band; Woodfish, a funk-rock band from the Jersey Shore; Ray Rodriguez y Swing Sabroso, a salsa swing band; Ed Solomon & Go Falcon!, poppy punk rockers; Lea Le Grace, pop-rocker; Stephie Coplan & the Pedestrians, a piano-driven pop-rock trio; and Catch Wild, alternative rockers from Jersey City.
The Actor’s Shakespeare Company at NJCU and the Hope Center Dancers will perform and Family Fitness Martial Arts and Jang Star Tae Kwon Do will present demonstrations.
The Black Hollies, a Jersey City-based rock band with psychedelic influences has several hit songs out in the mainstream. “Can’t Stop These Tears (From Falling)” was featured on an episode of “The Vampire Diaries,” and “Tell Me What You Want” was picked up by the NFL which used it for an ad campaign. The band features Jon Gonnelli, guitar and organ; Herbert Wiley, lead guitar; Nick Serrante, drummer and Justin Angelo Morey, lead singer and bass guitar. Several members reside in Jersey City, including Morey, who says the band has lots of fans, but may be more well known in other big cities like Austin, Texas, thanks to iTunes and YouTube. “The song we did for ‘Vampire Diaries’ became one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes and YouTube,” Morey says.
Art House Productions will be at the Festival to talk about their programs and Pro Arts Jersey City will be featuring several artist-members who will be on hand to discuss their work – always a fun thing to do at a festival. Who doesn’t enjoy talking to artists about their inspirations? Artists exhibiting for Pro Arts Jersey City will be Ibou Ndoye, Deirdre Kennedy, Christina Soto, Sharon Harvey and Holly Williams.
Art House Productions, a 2,000-member multi-arts organization that produces visual arts programs for more than a decade in Jersey City produces on average one community-art event a week including JC Fridays – a city-wide happening held four times a year that presents art programming at approximately 40 venues. It’s a way to introduce people to the arts in Jersey City, Christine Goodman, Founder and Executive Director says, and each event attracts 3-5,000 people. But if the UEZ funding is cut in July, JC Fridays may not go on.
“If UEZ funding is cut, it will have a huge impact on our decision to continue JC Fridays,” Goodman says. “We’d like to keep it going. We’ve faced this problem in the past, but it’s going to be a challenge. The future of JC Fridays is a little uncertain at this point.”
Designed to stimulate the local economy, the Everything Jersey City Festival is sponsored by corporations, local businesses, government officials, city agencies and non-profit community groups serving the Jersey City area including Capital One Bank, Christ Hospital, LibertyHealth/Jersey City Medical Center, Metro Honda, City of Jersey City, City of Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs, County of Hudson, County of Hudson Cultural Affairs and Tourism, C-Town Supermarkt, El Sabroso Restaurant, Footprints Realty, Goehrig’s Bakery, Hauptman Carpets, Hudson County Community College, Infinite Print, Jersey City Incinerator Authority, Jersey City Independent, Jersey City Parking Authority, Milrose Consultants Inc, Panepinto Properties, PSE&G, Spectra Energy, State Farm Insurance, Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Susan Newman Design, Inc., The American Flag Company, the Hudson Reporter, Jersey Journal, Jersey City UEZ Program/EDC, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman, United Water and Wells Fargo Bank.
Things may change after July, but for now, the Everything Jersey City Festival, paid for in part by the Jersey City UEZ Program promises to be a great event that celebrates community spirit and pride.
And with a little luck come July, let’s hope it won’t be the last.
Everything Jersey City Festival
Sat, May 21,
Central Avenue between Congress and Hutton Streets
For more information, call CASID at 201-656-1366,or visit its website, www.centralavesid.org
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