The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Has Council stumbled on a secret to marketing Plainfield?

Garcia's Fiesta drew huge crowds in its second year.

Sitting through a long -- and sometimes confusing -- Plainfield City Council last evening, I had plenty of time to contemplate the deeper significance of some agenda items.

While the Councilors got themselves (and their very capable consultant Dave Kochel) tangled in the review, discussion and voting on two pages of single-spaced budget amendments, my mind wandered to the significance of the sudden popularity of parking lots as venues for summer festivals.

In my thirty years in Plainfield, no one ever gave them a thought until Faraone's owner Edison Garcia put together the first extravaganza celebrating Central American Independence way back in 2009 (see my first post here). In 2010 it drew many more attendees (see here). Garcia had hold of something here.

Then the festival spread to include the U.S. Independence Day weekend. Others noticed and in 2012 there were dueling fiestas, Garcia's in Lot 8 (between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue)and that organized by Rodney Maree of Chez Maree in Lot 9 (between Watchung and Roosevelt Avenues). The big Council debate at the time of last year's street closure applications was whether Plainfield police and fire divisions could handle both events at the same time and whether parking would be an issue. Everyone from Director Hellwig on down said it would work out, and it did.

In 2012, there were 'dueling' Fiestas.

This year, however, officials had had time to mull it over and concluded two festivals at the same time was a bit much.

Accordingly, Garcia was approved for a festival during the weekend nearest July 4th, but not in September. Maree's application for a September event was discussed at last night's Council meeting.

In both cases, the revised $2,500 per day fee for use of the lots was an issue. Rodney Maree expressed last night that he was surprised it was for each day. While he did not ask to be relieved of the extra $5,000 in fees, it was clear to those paying attention that Councilor Bill Reid had erred in advocating the extra $5,000 be waived for Garcia when he applied for the earlier event.

Last night Reid came around as the Council members realized they had set themselves a trap and were going to be besieged with pleas for fee waivers.

But there was a third application on last night's agenda, also by Valuntad Productions, for use of Lot 9 on an August weekend for the '1st Annual El Salvadoran Heritage Festival'. (Again with the fee waiver request.)


Seems ethnic food and vendors, carnival rides, plenty of loud music, and rivers of cerveza are an irresistible combination!

And if Salvadorans want a fiesta, what about Mexicans, Colombians, Guatemalans, Hondurans ... you get my drift.

If Plainfield had an administration that gave things any thought -- which we do not at the moment have, but expect to come January -- some folks would be trying to decide if this was a phenomenon to be promoted by the City and how it could be made most beneficial to both the City and the private businesses promoting such events.

In the meantime, we can only hope Mr. Mapp's team is paying close attention to this development.

Two further thoughts, one on Lot 9 and some suggested improvements.

Sitting as it does between Watchung and Roosevelt Avenues, Lot 9, is less remunerative to the city than Lots 8 and 8A, which are directly behind Plainfield's busiest downtown shops. In Lot 9, there are only a handful of meters, and very little permit parking activity now that a charter school has moved from Watchung Avenue. Even on weekend nights when Chez Maree and the nearby The  Bridge (in North Plainfield) bars are hopping, there is little use of parking in Lot 9. But, it is a steady thoroughfare for those wishing to shop at Supremo Supermarket as it feeds directly into their lot, and for taxis which use Lot 9 as a shortcut to Orange Place and points east and north. So, closing off Lot 9 altogether is something of a burden to the business community. Maybe OK one weekend per year, but questionable if it were to become a regular hassle to be endured.

The other is to give some thought to improving these Festivals by drawing in Plainfield's nonprofit community organizations, as I suggested way back in 2009 -- of the strengths of the Outdoor Festival of Art always was that the triangle of grassy area in Library Park nearest 9th Street was reserved for Plainfield's cultural and nonprofit organizations to display their programs and solicit volunteers and participants. It was the the one-stop-shop for all sorts of activities from the Plainfield Symphony to the Friends of the Library, from the League of Women Voters to Habitat for Humanity, a true marketplace of community activities.

Adding something like this to the ... Fiesta(s) would have a two-pronged benefit: first, organizations could get the word out to a large audience, and second, Plainfield organizations would learn how to adapt to Plainfield's newest -- and growing -- population...
Again, this is something that would benefit from some helpful guidance from the City, which is not likely to become a reality until there is a new Mayor in place.

Life, as they say, is something that happens while you're making other plans.

-- Dan Damon [follow]
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Anonymous said...

Dan - No one should be using parking lots for through traffic shortcuts to another location. It's dangerous. Motor vehicle traffic should stay on the streets to get to their final destination. Parking lots are for parking at the locations they serve and for pedestrians going to/from those businesses. We shouldn't stop outside events in order to allow illegal shortcuts.

Anonymous said...

Why are the signs only in Spanish. Does that mean those who speak English aren't welcome?

By the way... I'm latino (I'm using this word to describe my background, but I consider myself American), and I hate seeing signs that announce fiesta in Spanish only as if saying, those who do not speak Spanish aren't welcome.

I'm with you on this about what will happen when every group from different nationality request to have a block party and wants to have parking lot permit fees waived.

Diversity is great, but when only one group is favored, then we really don't have a diversed group, but a monogenous group.

and by the way... I know a lot of people like to group all Latin American into a single block of people, but we come from different places and have different food taste, music and traditions, so when Salvadorians and Mexicans or other groups want to have their parties, please don't group us together with them. Thanks.

Rebecca Williams said...


The organizers/promoters of these events make money hand over fist on the beer sales, rides, food, etc. The reason we upped the fees to $2500 was because we should be earning revenue. I voted NO to waivers for these PROFIT-MAKING ventures. I knew that once the council starting granting waivers for one, they would be hard-pressed not to do it for others. The reason they want 3-day festivals is because they are extremely profitable. I missed yesterday's discussion, as I arrived late due to another event, but I will have questions next week. I don't have a problem with granting some waivers to non-profit community events, but for commercial and hugely profitable music festivals with beer, rides, food, and entertainment, there is no need for a waiver.


Siddeeq said...

Siddeeq El-Amin

Granting waivers to these profit-making events is opening the slippery slope where the Council will forever be unable to charge anyone for using the Lots, less they face law suits of discrimination.

Alan Goldstein said...

Did the waiver of fees for Edison Garcia have anything to do with the thousands in campaign contributions he has given over the years to Jerry Green, whose treasurer is Bill Reid? If I were Mr. Maree I would raise a ruckus. Cans of worms may be this administration's key export.

Alex Toliver said...

Dan I agree with Rebecca and please don't forget drinking and fun can get out of control. This could create fights and people could get hurt, !!what will this cost the town to pull our police in to halt the problems? who do we call and do we have enough EMT's. why is it that only one side of Plainfield will hold this type of events? (shopping area!) Plus why is it other towns around don't have this type of [affairs]such as Westfield, Cranford etc. etc.!!!

Anonymous said...

let them both have the festival it was a great time and safe no problems or issues last year.

Dan said...

I hope I made myself clear: I don't favor waivers for profit-making fiestas. Besides, the fee should be figured into the cost of doing business, and organizers would simply pass it along to the vendors.

As for 8:45 AM and the 'illegal' shortcuts -- get over it. Several of the public lots have more than one entry and people have shortcutted since Day One. This particular lot has a gate from the former Macy's parking lot directly into the public lot; Orange Place ends as an entry to the parking lot. C'mon, ease up.

Anonymous said...

Why dot they use Greenbrook of Cedarbrook park for their events? Using downtown for the 3 day event keeps people from shopping at the stores. You cant find a place to park!