UEZ, Small Businesses, and Artists Working Together to Make Broadway Shine

The Bridge Arts Festival stems from the same blossoming Bergen Point art community that the Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) is tapping for its own initiative to unlock Broadway’s potential. The UEZ recently selected four artists to pioneer an initiative in Bergen Point to create streetscapes in the form of painted utility boxes along Broadway.

Bayonne residents long for the old Broadway, before Amazon and Wal-Mart, before one-click payments, when residents had a different local shop for every need. But the economy has changed, and Bayonne is adjusting. Restaurants, specialty stores, cafes, art galleries, and local services, from dance classes to wealth management, are now the norm, and city officials embrace the changed economy, making the most of the community’s strengths.

Using UEZ funds, along with a grant from the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, artists will begin work on the streetscapes, so keep an eye out for the changing art and feel free to share eye-catching Bayonne street art with the Bridge Art Gallery’s Facebook page.

More than a Test

Bergen Point will be somewhat of a test subject for the initiative, with city officials calling the area’s beautification “Phase 1.” The next phases will incorporate the rest of Bayonne’s UEZ, which extends from 5th Street in Bergen Point all the way uptown to 55th Street.

“It’s a lot of neighborhoods,” said Dee Dee Bottino, who is the Assistant Director of the Bayonne UEZ, which also puts on the growing Bergen Point Fall Festival and assists with the Hometown Fair, both drawing thousands of residents annually.

A Bergen Point resident, Bottino says the neighborhood’s “good vibes,” are growing every year with new and old residents coming together to constantly improve the community. “That area is really transforming into a vibrant artistic community down there with the old businesses, the art gallery, and a lot of new businesses coming in.”

The goals of the program are not only to make the Bergen Point neighborhood prettier but to also showcase all of Bayonne.;. With artistic streetscapes comes other intended benefits, such as helping to draw out-of-towners into the city, Bayonne residents out to community events and common spaces, and vandals away from the urge to deface public property. And it’s been successfully implemented before in Jersey City Heights, another vibrant arts community in Hudson County. There, kids stopped spray painting the utility boxes, and wall murals have added a unique flavor to the neighborhood, which is fast becoming the premiere arts community in Jersey City.

Here in Bayonne, that designation so far belongs to Bergen Point. The businesses and the residents of Bergen Point really care about their sub-community.  Through support from the UEZ, local commerce is thriving along Broadway. Small businesses are mainstays in the neighborhood and make tangible efforts to foster a healthy community, such as contributing to the festivals, and participating in the UEZ Music on Broadway series, where the city helps to pay for local musicians to entertain at various restaurants, art galleries, and other popular Broadway businesses.  Bottino added, “Mayor Davis’ goal is for all of Broadway to prosper.  By adding new residential developments and beautifying the area with holiday decorations, art work, and flower pots, Bayonne will truly become a destination to shop, dine, and live.”

Bergen Point’s council person
has been one of the neighborhood’s biggest proponents. “It’s my job to bring neighbors together,” said Councilman Tommy Cotter, who stresses the importance of neighbor engagement to a healthy community. He advocates for more public space and improvements to the space Bayonne already has, such as Denis P. Collins Park, which the city recently approved for upgrades. A new volleyball court will replace the old one, a new playground and fun new playground equipment will be installed, including a mini zip line and a modern merry-go-round.

Depending on how far along the city is in these improvements, festival go-ers may be able to squeeze in a quick work-out. New exercise equipment for adults will be installed along the waterfront, including ellipticals and steppers. A raised patio will also be constructed nearby the bridge, as well as dog parks for both large and small dogs. The park is fast becoming a place not just to laze around, but to be active. Last year, the city even installed a new concrete skate park.

But all the public space and new amenities will be for nothing if residents don’t use them, said Cotter. “It brings neighbors out and people closer together, and every community needs that. I want my neighbors to care about each other, and say ‘hey, what’s going on.’”

A lifelong Bergen Point resident, Cotter has embraced his neighborhood’s newfound art. “I don’t have that talent, but I appreciate it when people do,” said Cotter, who purchased an amazing piece of artwork from a notable local artist, Tiffany Patrice.

“It was funny because it was just a woman with really crazy hair,” said Tiffany Patrice of the piece, titled, ‘Good Hair.’ “He said it reminded him of his co-worker.”

Tiffany Patrice, originally from Chicago, spoke about the role art plays in a community.

“Art evokes the social aspect of everything we do. It creates a new dialogue between people. Even in Bayonne, I would never have thought it would have had a bustling art community, but we see it happening right before our eyes,” said Tiffany Patrice. “I think everyone wants to live around creative people. When you can walk outside your house and see something that makes you smile, it’s really special. When you see vibrancy and color out there, you really start to love where you live.”

“I want people to say ‘Hey after dinner, let’s go check out the art installations,’” said Bottino. “It’s this kind of stuff that we’re trying to do here, and it’s just fantastic and wonderful that we have the mayor and the council people leading the way. We’re hoping this continues throughout all of Bayonne.”