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.