Fairs to return to Braddock Park; $6M lake project planned

Freeholder Vainieri, who pushed those projects, talks about 2016

The three biggest new events held in James J. Braddock North Hudson Park last year – the Arts Fair, the farmers market, and the Hudson County Fair/Carnival – will return in 2016, bigger and better than ever. Freeholder Anthony Vainieri, who initiated and coordinated all three events after being elected freeholder in Jan. 2015, talked with The North Bergen Reporter last week about his plans for 2016 after being sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 5 as new vice chairman of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders.
The freeholders’ board oversees the county budget, personnel, facilities, and parks.
In 2015, the Hudson County Fair returned to Braddock Park after an absence or more than three decades, bringing rides, food, and entertainment to thousands of delighted attendees. “I saw people I went to school with in the ’70s. They came up and thanked me for bringing it back and gave me a hug,” said Vainieri. “It was such a family-oriented event. There was not one incident, not a problem, not an argument. It shocked everyone how smoothly everything went.”
After much administrative wrangling to get the countless approvals necessary to make it happen, the fair came together in record time. It couldn’t be as large as originally envisaged, but the 2016 fair should make up for it.
Applications are already in progress for this year. “We have more time to plan,” said Vainieri. “That means more games of chance and more rides.”
The event will likely take place again over the Columbus Day weekend. “There’s a lot going on over the summer. People go away. They come back in the fall and they’re looking for something for the kids to do.”
Brand new in 2015 was the Arts Fair held in conjunction with Guttenberg Arts Gallery. The event took place June 14 alongside the lake, with hundreds of artists displaying their wares and conducting art lessons. A major highlight was the 50-foot monoprint painted by kids and other members of the community.
The fair will return this year with a tentative date of June 12.

“We’re going to have to drain the lake and do the wall 100 percent around the lake… We’re going to do it right, and it should last another 100 years.” –Anthony Vainieri
Braddock Park also saw its first farmers market in 2015, running from June through August. Vendors sold fresh fruits and vegetables as well as honey, artisanal coffee and lemonade, jewelry, skin care products, and more, with live entertainments on select dates.
“I would like to try to make it longer but it depends on how much we can budget,” said Vainieri. The market is run at no cost to taxpayers, with initial funds supplied by Vainieri, County Executive Thomas DeGise, and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco out of their campaign accounts.

A new $6M lake wall

Among the biggest new initiatives coming to the park is an overhaul of the lake itself. The first step, nearly completed, included removing large amounts of debris, weeds, branches, and dead foliage surrounding the waterfront.
“We just went out to bid for refurbishing the lake wall,” said Vainieri. “We’re going to have to drain the lake and do the wall 100 percent around the lake. We can’t keep patching it up here and there. We’re getting cave-ins and they have to rope off areas. We’re going to do it right, and it should last another 100 years.”
Cost for the project is estimated at $6 million, to be funded by the county.
Vainieri is also looking to stage a classic car show in the springtime, as well as a concert in the park featuring bands from the schools. “I’d like to do that the same day as the arts fair. That way if you get tired of walking around you can sit down and enjoy the music.”
Then there’s the St. Patrick’s Day Parade he’s proposing. “Like what they did in Jersey City: a small, one-block parade where they march over to the restaurants to have a party.” The plan is for a fun event complete with bagpipers. “Not on the scale of Hoboken,” he said, referring to the annual bacchanal that traditionally results in many violations and arrests of visitors. “We have a different clientele, a different atmosphere.”

Questions about preschool

Still to be determined is the fate of the preschool located in the end zone of Bruins Stadium. Trailers were installed more than a decade ago as a temporary location for the school. A proposed “diversion” would transfer the property from the county to the township and make the school permanent, in exchange for creating three new park spaces elsewhere in the county.
Some residents object to the county giving up public land for development, as well as the safety and appropriateness of housing a preschool in the park.
“That’s not in our hands right now,” said Vainieri about the freeholders’ involvement in the decision of whether to approve the diversion. “It’s in the hands of Green Acres. That’s in the perimeters of Bruins Stadium, which North Bergen leases from the county.”
The Green Acres program is part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, with the mission of protecting the state’s recreation and conservation needs. Green Acres contributed toward the creation of the veterans memorial at the north end of Braddock Park, on the site of the former “dust bowl.” The memorial is nearly complete and will be officially opened soon.
Other additions to Braddock Park include a vast new playing field for various sports, and ramps on all sidewalks for handicap accessibility. A new crosswalk will be completed soon between Bruins Stadium and the new sports fields.
“I’m working on moving the dog run to a different location,” Vainieri said of the feature next to the Bruins Stadium parking lot. “I found an area on the other side of the parking lot that’s bigger and nicer, with trails right down to the lake.”

New traffic lights and other changes

Vainieri has proposed a left-turn lane on Boulevard East at Riverview Drive North, near Bull’s Ferry Road, to alleviate traffic backups heading north. Some of the roads in the park have already been repaved. A second phase will include Boulevard East in the park.
Elsewhere in the region, Vainieri is looking to either add another traffic light or change the sequence of lights near Kennedy School to stop speeders. He also proposed a new traffic signal on River Road at the intersection near Waterside Restaurant, where a large, new housing complex is being built on the west side of the street.
“I had the county hire a company with strong enough equipment to clean out the area under the bridges of Boulevard East,” he said. “We took away tons of garbage and debris.”
Homeless individuals who camped out on the cliffs under the bridges were relocated to shelters.
More tree-trimming took place around 10th Street, where overgrown foliage posed a safety hazard. “We’ve paved Paterson Plank Road from North Bergen up to Secaucus,” he added. “That’s a big improvement, well needed.”

New vice president

Vainieri was elected as freeholder in Nov. 2014 and took office in January of 2015. He serves on the Public Resources Committee, which covers all parks and roads, as well as the Public Safety Committee. “We approve line items they need in their budget to keep their command at top shape,” he said. “Everything from helmets to cars to computers to CCTVs.”
In his first year as freeholder Vainieri served as chairman pro tempore; essentially the third in command. According to the standard rotation he was selected by the board members to serve as vice chairman this year and was sworn in on Jan. 6, putting him in line to be chairman in 2017.
Tilo Rivas, also the Union City Commissioner of Public Works, was sworn in as chairman this year, replacing E. Junior Maldonado of Jersey City.
Hudson County Freeholders are elected for three-year terms. All nine seats are up for election in 2017, with new terms to begin the following January.
Vainieri also serves as Mayor Nicholas Sacco’s chief of staff, and is the manager of Vainieri Funeral Home.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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