Notes from Gallo Center meeting to discuss Casino in the Park

Yesterday was the meeting at the Gallo Center to discuss the future of the Casino in the Park. I know quite a few people who wanted to go but couldn’t make it, so I’m writing up this account of it. I noted there was a reporter from the Jersey  Journal also in attendance, so I suspect there will be a report on it in the paper this week.

I’m dividing this post into two sections: straight reporting (as unbiased as I can make it) and then my own personal opinions. So here we go…

Straight reporting:

  • The meeting featured a panel of people involved in bringing in a new tenant to the space currently occupied by Casino in the Park. Most notable, and responsible for most of the talking and discussion, were Tom DeGise, County Executive and Bill O’Dea, County Freeholder. Three other county employees were there, including the attorney for the county in this matter; they mostly made a few opening comments and then Tom and Bill did the rest of the talking. The meeting was hosted by WSCA, and introductory comments were by Jodi Drennan.
  • Casino in the Park has been in its location for a very long time – it didn’t seem as though anyone knew exactly how long, but something in the span of 30-35 years seems to be correct. Needless to say, it’s been there for a while and has become an institution for Jersey City. That said, it has been in recent years mostly a catering hall – not open for lunch/dinner, but for special occasions only. Their lease is now up.
  • The park has undergone tremendous changes during the time Casino in the Park has been there. Whereas 20 years ago crime was a significant problem, it isn’t anymore. People used to be afraid to go into the park after dark; now that’s no longer the case.
  • There are $2million in improvements/upgrades that need to be done to the space before a new tenant moves in, and it has been decided that the new tenant will shoulder the responsibility for those costs. That means that the new tenant will likely need a very long lease – 20-30 years – in order to make back that initial investment and turn a profit.
  • Casino in the Park has allowed numerous churches and nonprofit groups to use its space for meetings and fundraisers for little to no cost. It was brought up several times that continuing this tradition should be something the new tenant takes on; however, the practicality of this remains to be seen.
  • People in the audience raised questions primarily around two concerns: safety and accessibility. On safety, it was raised that we don’t want to return to the time when the park was unsafe, and that a consideration as to closing time of the new establishment (especially if they serve alcohol, which they probably will) needs to be discussed. On accessibility, there were a variety of concerns of how “fine” a “fine dining” establishment it should be. Are we talking $25 for dinner? $100? $50? How important is it that the restaurant cater to the people who live in the neighborhood, or should it act as a draw for people from outside the neighborhood?
  • Alternative ways of revisioning the restaurant model were discussed, from a food hall-type space to a cafe within a fancier restaurant.

My personal take:

  • I think the important part of the meeting was bringing people in the community together and showing the county officials that this is something we take seriously and that we see as important for our neighborhood. That show of “we are here and we are watching” was the main point of the meeting, at least to me.
  • I am (along with others) concerned about a restaurant with a bar potentially turning out drunk patrons into the park late at night, but there’s a lot of steps that could be taken to lessen this issue. It doesn’t have to be an problem if it’s actually planned for.
  • It’s hard to know what’s going to happen and what our options are until we at least get some potential vendors in the mix. I can say that I strongly want (for instance) a mid-range vegetarian cafe to open there, but if no one steps forward to say they’re willing to invest and operate such a place, what difference does it make? We can sit and argue about whether it should appeal to the golfers coming to the golf course or young families in the neighborhood – ultimately, we have to see who is willing to take on that investment and commitment, what kind of profits they need to make back the money they’ve put in, and so forth.
  • I don’t want the restaurant to fail. Two million is a lot of money to put up front, and 30 years is an awfully long lease. I’ve gotten used to watching a lot of small businesses on West Side Ave rent a space, fix it up, open…. and then close in a month. It’s unfortunate, but in this case it could be really tragic. I really think this entire endeavor has to be in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, or this could be a mess.

It sounded like the timeline for this is that by the end of the month there will be a request for vendors to step up and announce their interest. I think it was stated that we should have some idea about who is seriously interested in pursuing this by the end of October. Many more meetings to come, so stay tuned.

Meeting re: Casino in the Park

Next week, there will be a meeting to discuss the future of Casino in the Park, the catering hall that is in Lincoln Park. The lease is up for the current company occupying the space, so now the county (because Lincoln Park is a county park, not a city or state park) has to decide what to do with it.

So what’s the best idea for that space? Should it continue to be a catering hall, rented out for weddings and other special events? A fancy, formal restaurant? A casual, family restaurant? Or what? Representatives from the county will be there and they want to hear your feedback.

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The first of many election posts

It’s only the beginning of August and already the November election is taking shape. I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about the election until at least September (when all the official paperwork from the different candidates is due), but with so many people running, I thought it best to at least take a stab at getting started.

Some basic ground rules for this post: I’m only going to cover the candidates that people in Ward B can vote for. And for this particular post, I’m drawing from publicly available information on the candidates – not talking to them individually. I hope to later do an interview with each candidate, but for now I’m just pulling information that’s already out there on the internet to give readers an overview of what’s going on.

And with that, let’s get started!

City Council: Ward B

Voters get to choose one person to represent our ward on the city council for the next four years. If you’re new to JC West Side politics, you might sense a little confusion surrounding this position because of our recent history with council members. Very long story short: in 2016, we had three councilmen. First, Councilman Chico Ramchal, who was elected as part of Mayor Fulop’s ticket in 2013, had to resign due to pleading guilty to a drunk driving charge. Then, Fulop selected John Hallanan to take his place until a special election was held in November. That election wound up being an upset, with Chris Gadsden winning. Gadsden now has to defend that position again this November. Which leads us to:

There’s also a few additional people buzzing around and dropping hints that they are interested in running. Until things get a little more firmed up, I’m keeping them off the list for now. I’ll add to this as more announce and/or get paperwork in.

Council at-large

Here’s where things get a little (more) confusing. The position of Council at-large represents the entire city. Running for it is basically like running for mayor – you have to get votes from all over the city. You don’t have to vote for an entire slate, you can do it ala carte so to speak, and pick and choose the candidates to support.

  • The incumbents are all on Mayor Fulop’s slate: Rolando Lavarro, Daniel Rivera and Joyce Watterman.
  • Bill Matsikoudis has his own slate, consisting of Esther Wintner, Michael Winds, and Esmerelda Trinidad.

It’s perhaps notable that both Lavarro and Wintner both live in Ward B.

There are others who are currently seeking signatures, but given that it’s a very steep hill to climb to qualify for the ballot for at-large, I’m leaving them off for now. I’ll add as they qualify.

Mayor

 

So that’s it for a first stab! It’s a long slog from here to November, and changes are sure to happen. I’ll keep you updated the best I can.

Lincoln Park Live: Pedro Cortes

This Wednesday! Pedro lives in our neighborhood and he is an unbelievable flamenco artist. Bring your family and make an evening of it. This is a great event!

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And for a preview, check out the performer here:

 

Meet the West Side Cartographer: Ethan.

Since sometime in the spring, someone has been making intricate and highly accurate maps in chalk on the sidewalks of Lincoln Park. My husband and I would come across them while walking the dog – we’d always get there after a rainstorm, so they’d be partially washed out, but you could tell all the details were there – street names, to-scale length and if the street twisted, and so forth. First time we saw them, we thought that someone must have been trying to convey directions to someone else – perhaps a parent was trying to explain to a kid how to get home, or something like that. They seemed much too detailed and accurate for a kid to have made alone, so that just made them more puzzling.

This Saturday, I left the house early with my dog and stumbled across a new one. This one hadn’t been touched by the rain, so I could see all the streets correctly and precisely filled in. My curiosity finally got the best of me, so I tweeted about it and posted a pic to our local neighborhood Facebook group:

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I really never in a million years thought anyone would respond.

A few hours later, I had my answer:

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Meet Ethan. He’s four, and he lives on the West Side.  He and his dad spend a lot of time in the park, drawing maps. And he’s just as brilliant, cute, and delightful as you would hope he’d be.

I just met up with Ethan and his dad, while Ethan was working on a new map of the area. He’s a little shy (but incredibly sweet), and I didn’t want to push him too much. But his dad helped fill in some of the story.

IMG_8112Ethan has a photographic memory, and “he can tell you all the states and their capitals, in alphabetic order.”  Also, all the countries in the world, by continent. Now he’s onto Jersey City. He makes all these maps entirely by himself (his dad would prompt him a bit like, “hey, what street is that coming off of JFK? [that he just drew on his own but didn’t label]” but no more than that), including writing all the street names (he has excellent penmanship). He perfectly captures the way that the street runs and how they connect to other streets, all by memory. If he makes a mistake, he Xes it out and keeps going. I watched him deftly and totally on his own map out a street and neatly declare it “MCADOO.” His favorite street is Kennedy Boulevard, because (I think this is what he said? he was being a little shy) it goes to so many places.

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Ethan, drawing the Passaic River, feeding off the Hackensack.

So how does he know about all this stuff? Google Maps. He spends his time when he’s not in the hustle and bustle of pre-K staring at Google Maps and maneuvering around it. His mom wrote to me, “Ethan schools us all day long, constantly quizzing us. ‘Does Johnston connect to Summit? Name all the streets that connect to West Side.” He’s told his grandparents – who have lived on the West Side since 1973 – about streets that they’ve never even heard of.”

Ethan will work on a map over a few days with his dad. The rain kept washing away his progress on this latest map (located by the “bandstand” part of the park, near the flags and the fountain) so I was only able to grab one really decent picture of his progress. But the streets of the West Side are all there:

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Ok LOOK. We live in very weird times. I didn’t know when I reached out on social media who the West Side Cartographer was going to be. This could have wound up many different ways, many of them creepy. But no, instead it’s totally fantastic: our resident West Side mapmaker is a wonderful kid with a lovely family, and he’s just out there doing his thing (and his parents are out there supporting him in the best possible way). I’m so impressed and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get (more than) a little teary-eyed writing this post.

So next time you come across those maps in Lincoln Park, just know that you can take a pic and plot your next trip based on them. Ethan totally knows what he’s doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Carnival at Lincoln Park (with update on 7/9)!

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about the carnival that’s set up in Lincoln Park. There’s very little info available online, so I went over to check it out. I went today, the 4th of July, in the middle of the afternoon. Thought it would be packed given the holiday, but it was pretty sleepy.

Here’s some details: it’s open from now til July 9th [update: see below]. It’s $3 to get in; rides are extra. You pay for rides by buying tickets and each ride is a different number of tickets (standard carnival stuff); for two adults to get on the Ferris wheel, it was $10 total. The rides seemed well-maintained and the grounds were very clean. Some of the game stands had “kids always win” signs – can’t say I really looked into that, though. It’s VERY small – just a few rides and games. But for the size it was, it was really nice.

The pictures are better than any text I can write:

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Tiny carousel
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This ride looked like the most popular and really fun…. if I wasn’t so chicken.
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Round Up aka gravatron
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Tiny rollercoaster.
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Carny guy giving me serious stink-eye.
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Excellent carnival food (I was very sad that they were not yet serving curly fries when I visited.)
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More fair food.
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Yet more fair food. They featured both fried oreos AND fried twinkies.

Jeff actually managed to get my into the Ferris wheel, which is some small miracle because I am completely terrified of all rides. All rides. When you see the size of this wheel, you’ll understand how crazy it was that I was scared. But the wheel was pretty cute and I didn’t cry.

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Going up.

 

 

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The view of Lincoln Park from the top. Yes, the guy running the ride stopped us up there (we were the only ones on the wheel.

UPDATE – JULY 9: Well, even though the carnival was slated to run til the end of the day, it suddenly and extremely quickly packed up and moved out last night. This morning, there was nothing left but the french fry stand; by now, I’m sure that’s gone too.

Ok, that sucks. I know a few people who were planning on coming out on the last day and bringing their kids, and now there’s suddenly no carnival. It’s seriously not cool. But also, not much we can do about it at this point. Sorry, everyone!

Tonight in Lincoln Park!

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Tonight! Totally free music in Lincoln Park. Come out to the fountain, bring a picnic or buy something from one of the great food trucks. Should be a beautiful night!

The vendors at the Farmers Market at Lincoln Park

I just spent the afternoon volunteering at the Farmers Market at Lincoln Park and it was really fun. Just a couple of pics from today and also last week, along with some info:

Every Sunday from 10-3, in Lincoln Park and next to St. Al’s Church, at least two farm vendors set up (there is also, every week, free yoga at noon). The first is Circle Brook Farm, which specializes in organic produce and herbs, including a lot of things you can’t get in the neighborhood easily:

Their prices are really reasonable – bunches of fresh herbs were only a $1.50 each, and other things were comparably priced – and everything looks great. They also offer organic eggs for $4/dozen (they sell out quick, so get there early if you want some).

The other farmer is RH Farms. Right now, it’s early in the season so most of their produce is still in the ground or not quite ready for picking, but they’ve been bringing a lot of beautiful plants for the garden. This week they also had a few fruits and veggies, including blueberries, leafy greens, and radishes:

Ok. So those two are out every week. Here’s where it gets a little more confusing, but it means that there’s cool stuff changing week to week and you’ll just have to swing by to check it all out.

Every other week, Squeez’d and Uncle Bud will be there. Squeez’d sells awesome freshly squeezed juices:

IMG_7749(So sorry that pic isn’t better!! Next time, you guys – I’ll get something better next time.)

Uncle Bud is… Uncle Bud, aka Tony. He’s a charmer and a local celebrity of sorts. He makes awesome hot sauces and brings a grill and makes ribs, collards, mac & cheese:

Once a month, GourMuttz comes to the market. She makes homemade dog treats and will put a bunch of free samples out on a platter and let your dog pick his very favorite for you. Here she is, with a very happy customer:

Then, in the mix, there will be a variety of other vendors adding on to our market as we go.

I know that’s a little confusing to have some vendors some weeks and others on other weeks. But right now there are SO many farmers markets in the area (think of all the markets in JC already, then consider all the surrounding towns and cities that also have markets) that vendors are spread really thin, especially on the weekends. These are all really small businesses – most have one or two employees, tops. I’ve vended at these markets before, and I know how hard it is – you have to make your product (which takes a lot of time) and then go out and sell your product (which takes away from time you could be making more of your product). This is a tough business to be in, and it’s really a labor of love.

And all of our vendors are really, really local, and really really really homemade. If you go to a farmers market in the area this week and you see tomatoes, there’s one of two options: either they came from a hothouse, or that tomato didn’t really come from NJ. It’s not tomato season in our zone until later in the summer. So that means no tomatoes at our market… but the produce that is there is super fresh, ripe, and really came out of the ground in NJ, and was harvested by a local small business, not a big company. And Uncle Bud really did make that hot sauce himself, Squeez’d really did just juice those fruits and veggies just for you, and GourMuttz made those dog treats with her own hands.

Anyway. The Farmers Market is a lot of fun, and I hope you’ll stop by soon if you haven’t already. It’s a lovely way to hang out in the park on a Sunday and come meet your neighbors and buy some really great stuff.

Press conference with JC Together/Honeywell development

I attended a press conference today with the great Jersey City Together, an interfaith organization that comes out for issues of fair and affordable housing and other related issues. To quote the article from the Jersey Journal:

A group of over three dozen local pastors and activists today demanded to be a part of the process to select a developer for the 100-acre Bayfront site on the city’s western waterfront.

The group, under the banner Jersey City Together, slammed recent reports that one of the three developers seeking to oversee the massive development intended to make it an Orthodox Jewish enclave. They spoke gathered in a parking lot on Route 440 with the fenced-in Bayfront site behind them.

Jersey City Together is a successor group to the Interfaith Community Organization of Jersey City, which spent decades fighting the owners of the property, now Honeywell, over the site’s chromium contamination. ICO eventually sued Honeywell in federal court and won a victory in 2003 when a judge ordered Honeywell to clean up the site.

Pastors today criticized any attempt to turn the site over the developers for an “exclusive community, not for the people of Jersey City.”

“I personally did not spend decades of my life for a toxic deal for Jersey City,” said the Rev. Will Ashley, of the Abundant Joy Community Church.

It was so moving to hear this group of priests and ministers (the group was largely, if not exclusively, Christian even though JC Together includes other faiths as well) talk about the need for community involvement in the redevelopment of that site. They talked about what it once was – the dumping site for a wasteland of seeping yellow, cancer-causing liquid – and what it is now, some of the cleanest land in all of JC. There remains the question of what it will be in the future, and the religious leaders talked about their hopes that it would be an inclusive neighborhood that would integrate the existing community and generate jobs for people in the area.

This is the site currently:

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Not much to see now, but it’s a huge area (eventually, the development will be larger than Newport) across the highway from Home Depot on 440. Bordering on the Hackensack River, it has incredible potential for parks and shared areas, as well as commercial development and housing. And potentially, it could revitalize an entire area that currently is just empty for as far as the eye can see. The group was asking for a seat at the table to be able to give input on what gets developed there, to make sure that the best use for this land is chosen.

To be fair, I didn’t so much as attend the press conference as technically I participated in it; I felt a bit like the token heathen in the midst of all these amazing religious people:

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I am staunchly and proudly not religious (I often identify as an atheist but that’s not probably 100% correct) but I’ve attended several events put together by JC Together and always I’ve felt totally welcomed and accepted. As I was standing out there in that blazing 90+ degree sun in the parking lot of the Home Depot, I deeply regretted my all-black outfit decision (although I didn’t have it nearly as bad as the priests – I at least had shorts and a tank top). And a couple of times, I caught myself feeling a little funny, a little out of place. What do I do when they do the opening prayer? How do I act?

Something I’ve come to (more or less) peace with is, this is what social activism in JC is. Some of the most serious, most determined, best people are very religious, which means they live differently than I do and believe things that I don’t. And instead of being turned off or weird about it, it’s a good thing for me to stretch and learn and be open.

And as with so many things, in this case we agree on so much. Why should a developer just get to make sweeping decisions on what the future of this community should hold? Why does the city – a 40% shareholder in the space – get to make decisions without asking the people who live here what we want? This land belongs to all of us. There should be no fighting for it. It’s already ours.

Events in Lincoln Park this weekend

Two more great, free events in Lincoln Park this weekend. On Saturday, there’s the Stride & Ride:

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And on Sunday, it’s the kickoff of this season’s Farmers Market at Lincoln Park:

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Come join us in the park for fresh produce and vendors, free yoga, and children’s activities sponsored by Crossroads Church and a coloring area sponsored by Three Little Birds West Side. Vendors will be there 10-3, free yoga is at noon, and kids’ activities start at 10:30. We’re by West Side Avenue, right near St. Al’s church. The Farmers Market is a really fun event, and it’s weekly through October.

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Jessica does the free yoga. She is very nice and beginner friendly. And it is great to do yoga outdoors in the park! Please bring a mat or towel to practice on.

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Shopping at farmers markets is a great way to support local NJ family farms. And you get great produce, too! Hope to see you there!