Everything Jersey City Festival Canceled Due to UEZ Funding Cuts

The 2012 Everything Jersey City Festival

Central Avenue’s Everything Jersey City Festival, which ran for 10 blocks between Congress and Hutton streets and was one of the largest main street festivals in North Jersey, is the latest casualty of Urban Enterprise Zone funding cuts.

Central Avenue Special Improvement District Management Corporation (CASID) officials announced yesterday, Feb. 21, that the sixth annual installment of the festival, which was originally set for May 18 and has been one of the largest cultural events in the Jersey City Heights neighborhood, has been cancelled.

“We are extraordinarily disappointed that the Festival will not take place this year,” says CASID President and Ward D Council candidate Michael Yun, who blames the city.

“As a result of the City of Jersey City’s misplaced priorities, the Central Avenue and Heights neighborhood cannot host the festival…Our organization explored every option possible to move forward with the festival this year but could not guarantee a well-organized event without the minimal staff,” he says.

The festival featured dozens of local nonprofits, artists, businesses and community members who participated as sponsors, vendors, exhibitors, performers and attendees. CASID officials also noted that, “Performances from hometown celebs like popular singer and ‘Queen of Freestyle’ Judy Torres helped put the festival on the map and performances from groups such as the McNair Academic High School Glee Club, Hudson County Tech dance club and many other organizations made the event a true celebration of the Jersey City and Hudson County community’s abundant cultural riches.”

Last year, the event featured performances by the Haesun Jung Korean Traditional Dance Academy, Emerald Fire Dance, The Hope Center for the Performing Arts, 407 Moves from County Prep High School as well as the Jersey City Children’s Theater, belly dancers, a mariachi band and two fashion shows.

Performers at the 2012 Everything Jersey City Festival

The festival’s four performance stages were graced by the likes of The Audiobodies, Rumba Con Son, The Manhattan Dolls, Leah Le Grace, DJ Pastiche and more.

Other attractions included a Hudson County SWAT vehicle, a rock climbing wall, and one of the biggest crowd-pleasers, an animated baby Tyrannosaurus rex puppet from Field Station: Dinosaurs in Secaucus.

While Yun hopes the festival can return by 2014, things are looking bleak for the city’s main streets and SIDs in general. After Gov. Chris Christie decided UEZ initiatives were not successful and to redirect their funds back into the state budget, funds have been drying up all around.

Earlier this year, CASID had to cancel its street sweeping program on Jan. 28. Soon after, the CASID accused the city of mismanaging the remaining UEZ dollars. They also noted that in the past, the city would use UEZ funds to match the amount raised by an SID, which representatives of CASID say was $93,000. This year, that funding dropped to $50,000. City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill, however, maintained that the problem lies with the governor, not with city.

In January, the Historic Downtown SID (HDSID) announced that it was launching an online crowdfunding campaign to fund its All About Downtown Street Fair.

HDSID director Nikol Floros called the festival a “hefty financial undertaking” and said that they hoped to raise enough money to pay for the off-duty police security required at the fair. The HDSID also pays for other services that improve the quality of life in the area like street cleaning, business attraction and retention efforts, holiday decor and more. At publication, the campaign has earned $1,170 and has until the next fair later this summer to reach its goal of $15,000.

Not Yo Mama's co-founder Megan Gulick, seen at the 2012 Everything Jersey City Festival

A campaign on petition website CitizenSpeak, “Take Action Now: Save Jersey City’s Main Streets,” posted by user CASIDMC, pleads with several local politicians including Mayor Jerramiah Healy, members of the City Council and several state legislators to step in. The petition has been circulating since at least January.

By signing the petition, supporters demand that “the City of Jersey City continue to invest in its commercial districts and main street neighborhoods.”

The petition also says, “Funding cuts to Jersey City’s main street areas have negatively affected neighborhoods across the city. Specifically, the City of Jersey City must match each Special Improvement District assessment up to $100K (approximately 1/10th of 1 percent of the $490 million city budget). This minimal investment is absolutely critical to keep our city moving in the right direction.”

Since news of the Everything Jersey City Festival’s cancellation (something the petition also alluded to before the CASID’s official announcement), locals have been expressing their disappointment.

“The Everything Jersey City Festival supported Jersey City artists by providing them with an opportunity to promote their talents to tens of thousands of festival visitors,” says JC Heights resident and Not-Yo-Mama’s Affairs cofounder Megan Gulick (seen above)

Farms in the Heights founding board member Beverly Brown Ruggia agreed. “Each year the festival brought more visitors to the Heights, which generated more commerce and revenue for the city,” she says. “Losing the festival is a tremendous economic and cultural loss for our neighborhood and Jersey City as a whole.”

Matt Hunger contributed to this report

Photos by Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.