Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Council Still Not in Tune with Plaza Music

More questions arose Monday about the "Music in the Plaza" concert series that debuted last year, and resolutions for a promotional banner and funding were withdrawn.

The afternoon concerts took place last year on the plaza in front of the new office building downtown, but did not appear to draw the anticipated lunchtime crowds. Videotapes played on Channel 74 prominently featured city officials and employees dancing in front of the bandstand and former Public Information Officer Jazz Johnson told the city's Television Advisory Board at one meeting that attendance was lacking.
When the topic of a second season came up, City Council President Rashid Burney suggested having some of the concerts in the evening, perhaps on Thursday shopping nights in conjunction with sidewalk sales. The plaza is on a block west of the city's most intensive downtown shopping district on Front Street between Park and Watchung avenues, and Burney said officials of the Special Improvement District did not see increased business on concert days.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs originally backed the concert series to increase business for restaurants and stores on the ground level of the office building after some merchants requested greater exposure. The building takes up the block bounded by West Front Street, Park Avenue, West Second Street and Madison Avenue, but the most foot traffic occurs on Front and Park. Office building tenants include various state and county social service agencies.
A resolution to seek Urban Enterprise Zone funding for the events drew questions from Councilwoman Annie McWilliams on spending from the fund. Sales tax receipts from certified retailers in the zone generate an account from which the city can draw for downtown promotion, cleanliness and safety, but each request must be approved by the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority. McWillliams and others have asked for a breakdown of disbursements from the fund, which has dwindled since major retail anchors left the downtown.
The concert program was also supported in part by donations from local banks and organizations, but City Administrator Marc Dashield said he expected donations to be down in the current economic climate. He said sponsors are being solicited now and he could not give an estimate of support. At any rate, the city's allotment is also down and the concert dates will have to be curtailed. With all these details lacking, Dashield withdrew the items. He asked council members to e-mail him their specific concerns.
The concerns about the concert series were echoed in part by uncertainty about the annual July 4th celebration. A $50,000 line in the FY 2009 budget was reduced by $5,000 in a proposed amendment, but officials said the amount was actually for last year's event. Details and plans for the 2009 celebration were unclear.
Resident Ralph Corniffe questioned the wording of a banner promoting the "Annual Central Jersey 4th of July Parade," when North Plainfield and other municipalities have dropped support. Although the parade still draws people from around the region, Corniffe said if Plainfield is now footing the bill, the title should reflect the same.
Checking back in Plaintalker archives, similar uncertainties about the annual July 4th celebration existed in 2006 and there were also concerns about musical events by the same promoter hired to do Music in the Plaza. Click here to read the past article.
Plaintalker will be doing a separate commentary on this issue.
--Bernice Paglia


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