Portugal Day Celebration May Not Happen This Year

Update: The festival is happening this year, June 7th and 8th! Check out directions, our survival guide, and photos of past festivals.

Star Ledger: City’s Portugal Day a tradition in limbo under new policy

After 28 years, Newark’s Portugal Day festival may be canceled due to lack of support and communication from the city, organizers say.

The ethnic festival has been one of Newark’s largest, drawing some 500,000 people to the Ironbound section. In years past, musical and dance performers from Portugal and the tristate area, art exhibits showcasing works by Portuguese- Americans, and soccer matches fill a jampacked schedule of events during the 10-day festival.

But a new policy that began last year called for the festival organizers to pay 80 percent of the city’s cost to host the festival. Since the new rules were set after organizers had budgeted for the festival last year, the city agreed to accept an initial 15 percent with the balance to be paid within a year.

After last June’s festival, however, the Coutinho Foundation told city officials they would not be able to pay off that balance.

Screwing City Hall out of $448,611 is a really good way to prevent the city from supporting your event.

I’m bummed that it looks as though the Portugal Day parade is canceled this year — we’ve always enjoyed the mayhem it brings to our neighborhood — but I can’t say the city is in the wrong on this one: if the festival is unsustainable, the city shouldn’t be pouring money into propping up it up.

The Star Ledger covered the budget issues with the festival last year: City Hall Rethinks Policies on the Portugal Day Festival. Here’s a quote from then Ironbound Business Improvement District executive director Seth Grossman:

“Truth be told, the festival has not been very helpful to the business community. Businesses tend to lose money on that weekend,” said Ironbound Business Improvement District executive director Seth Grossman. “If they’re losing business, the city is losing.”

My bet is that Ironbound businesses will step up to make Portugal Day a cultural celebration that brings people into the restaurants and gets them to spend money along Ferry Street. In past years, the festival gets a little risqué after dark — and way too loud for anyone under 30. This approach would draw a lot more families and their wallets.

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Newarker, PCA Elder, Business Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

12 thoughts on “Portugal Day Celebration May Not Happen This Year”

  1. Figures now that they have their new Arena (which is creating the larger portion of the revenue in Newark) they dont want to know about the Portuguese anymore. We have kept Newark alive finacially for the last 30-40 years and now they dont need us anymore. Even though the festival has become more South American than Portuguese there is still a sense of tradition. But the powers that be in City Hall dont care anynmore. They dont need us anymore and they are ready to throw us out to make way for more corporate BS. Beware people of Newark soon they will take everything you have been building down in the Ironbound for the past 30 – 40 years and sell it to the highest bidder. They are already in the process of taking away the only hospital in the area and now they want to take away the feast too. Whats next ?


  2. That seems like a very harsh assessment. While I agree we must carefully watch to make sure Newark does not sell its soul for the purpose of gentrification, in a year where budget cuts are hurting the city across the board, this makes sense.


  3. Nelson, the Ironbound carries the majority of the tax burden for the city, so I don’t think City Hall is interested in making any political mistakes with this constituency. And the Arena isn’t bringing in massive capital to the city — if anything, the city needs to pay down the city bond debt incurred in it’s co-investment with the Devils: we’re probably a good couple of years away from break-even on that venture.
    I think the timing for the festival is just wrong in this economic and political climate. In a brutal economy and following on the heels of a city budget crisis, the Portugal Day festival organizers expect help after sticking City Hall with a bill of a half-a-million dollars. And this for a festival that shuts down Ferry Street for business owners for two days.
    If the organizers were more fiscally responsible, I’m sure the festival would take place. I don’t see the city government as responsible here.


  4. The cost involved is one black eye, but does anyone remember last year’s hit-and-run? Far more serious, and the product of cramming so many people into such a small place. It’s outgrown the Ironbound, in cost and size. Perhaps a solution might be moving it to Broad Street, which would also allow restaurants to be open, or Branch Brook Park, which is farther away but more practical. But the financing, especially in such dire times, can’t be ignored. The city, state, country are in pretty dire straits right now.


  5. I think it is very important to the city to have that festival. I’ve been attending for years. Cutting everything that is good in a city is not really a way to attract money to it either. It would be a major disappointment, and I think an insult to the community that loves the festival and really has been a staple.


  6. I am a Portuguese-American woman, born and raised in the Ironbound. While I very much enjoyed attending this festival for many years with many other Portuguese-Americans and non-Portuguese-Americans, the whole point of celebrating Portuguese culture and tradition has been lost for a long time now. In recent years I have been embarrassed to have to tell friends that this orgy is absolutely not representative of the Portuguese people. As a mother I would have liked to expose my children to their heritage by attending this celebration. To my great sorrow, I would not allow my children to attend this festival because of the disgusting behavior of way too many drunken festival goers. In no way should this be called Portugal Day — the majority of people attending and interviewed by the media couldn’t care less about celebrating Portuguese culture. The atmosphere has become out-of-control and Cory Booker is absolutely right in refusing to use city monies to bankroll this festival.


  7. I was born in Portugal raised in Ironbound, ironbound was where i spent my early years as a child and I couldnt ever feel safer anywhere else in this state. To this date driving into the ironbound section I feel at home, and I love to be there.As a kid I could never forget the sunday parade associated with the feast, the crowds at the restaurant parking lots, the vendors and just the smell of pride in the air, as years have gone by, it’s sad to say things change, and as we all know not for the best.
    The city is in debt along with the state, and just as in any other city state wide, events that draw such a magnitude of people need to be fully financed. There are cops to pay and DPW personnel that sweep up the garbage afterwards, and they are not doing it during the regularly scheduled cleaning day, they all do it it after hours at 1am when they are all getting paid well over 50 dollars an hour.
    Lets just be sensible, The feast as we all know it, is no longer portuguese related. The very last time I felt so much pride in the city was during the euro cup matches, now that is portuguese pride.
    The fights, the BS associated with the wrong kind of people going to this event has turned a good thing bad. For the sake of keeping one more life alive, I honestly need to say, please do not have the feast this year.
    The city is over run by gangs and I am sure they are going to love to start problems. I think the best we can do is maybe have the parade on sunday, and do several parking lot events such as at Iberia and so on. There seriously needs to be a stop to the violence that this event brings, we all know it as portuguese we love to live and love to love, its obvious enough we didnt ruin a good thing, in the end whaat else can we do, what else c an we say. Why allow a feast to be called portugal day and bring with it violence, keep the ironbound safe, d0ont support the feast this year and lets put it to sleep once and for all. Newark had a good run, time for all of us portuguese peeps to move out go further down south.. or better yet back to our kindhearted beautiful little country, it’s where we all long to be.. this country is harsh and has been for so long..


  8. I’m Irish. Substitute “Portugal Day” with “St. Patrick’s Day,” and you have the same story. When an event becomes an excuse for the culturally ignorant to get drunk, start fights and create mayhem, that event has outlived its time.


  9. INEXCUSABLE nonsense. You don’t end an event just because there are problems associated with it. That is giving in to the barbarians, and no civilization has ever survived by running from barbarians. You stand and fite. For those who want to run to the suburbs, GOOD RIDDANCE. But for people who have ALREADY run to the suburbs and who are eager to justify their cowardly behavior, to tell those of us who remain in the city that we should just end everything that makes life in Newark great is detestable, and contemptible in the extreme. I saw no violence and no crime when I was at last year’s Portugal Day street fair, and shutting down the event won’t end crime. It’s called “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. I’d rather keep the baby, thank you.


  10. None of the posts above describe Portugal Day’s problems as urban-only problems. Perhaps you didn’t see the hit-and-run death of the 4-year-old girl last year, but that certainly qualifies as violence and crime, even if on some level it was an accident. And if you didn’t see the degree of public intoxication last year, then I think you might have gone on the wrong weekend. There are plenty of wonderful and under-marketed things, places and people to appreciate about the Ironbound; to bring first-time visitors in during this weekend will convince them this area is not a place for families, though that is anything but true.


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