Deal Between Toms River BID And Mayor Brings Fireworks

Photo by Jason Allentoff

  TOMS RIVER – Five fireworks shows will happen downtown in the summer, a result of an agreement between Mayor Daniel Rodrick and the Downtown Toms River Business Improvement District.

  The Toms River Business Development Corporation is called different titles by different people, but it will be referred to as the BID (business improvement district) for the rest of this article. It’s the group that fundraises for and organizes special events downtown. The BID is a 501(c)3 and a separate entity from the town. However, because the town assesses the downtown businesses and collects the taxes, the budget has to go through the town.

  The BID held a meeting on March 6 at 8 a.m., and invited the press. They said they were worried that the money that was collected from downtown businesses was not going to be released to them without concessions.

  Attorney Robert Shea, the BID’s chairman, led the meeting. He said that the BID was founded in 2002, and worked with many administrations over the years on both sides of the political aisle. The budget is normally adopted by the BID at the end of the year. Then, they submit their budget to the business administrator and tax assessor. The Township Council will usually schedule a hearing in January where the BID’s executive director explains the budget to the public and the council votes on it.

  “We have not, as of March 6, been able to get on the agenda. We’re in jeopardy of not being able to function. The salaries and events are in jeopardy,” Shea said.

  There are 68 events scheduled for 2024. The assessment to businesses is $286,000. The total being spent is $440,000 because the BID does fundraising and applies for grants.

  The $286,000 has already been collected from the businesses, Shea said. The township just has to turn it over.

  “We were told to take out $70,000 and put in fireworks,” he said. “I have absolutely no problem with fireworks,” but the BID would have to fire people and close events in order to pay for them.

  Regarding the budget process, he said “It’s not to be done in a room at Town Hall. It’s not to be done at this table. It’s to be done at a public meeting.”

  BID Executive Director Mairin Bennett read out a timetable of communications that had transpired between the BID and the township. One delay was that the township didn’t have the value of the buildings right away. They would need that to figure out how to split the taxes.

  Bennett said that the mayor wanted 10 fireworks shows on Fridays, and each of them would be 8-10 minutes each.

Members of the Toms River Business Development Corporation said they weren’t against fireworks but they were difficult to hold downtown. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  The BID’s accountant, Lee Pelton, said there are two full-time employees and two part-time employees in the BID. The rest are volunteers. The board are volunteers. He said that Rodrick told him that if the BID doesn’t do what he says and create the fireworks nights, then he’ll dissolve the BID and bring it in-house.

  Councilman David Ciccozzi, who is from a different Republican group than Rodrick and the council majority, said during the BID meeting “What he’s trying to do has nothing to do with fireworks. It’s about control. Next year, it will be something else. His ultimate goal, in my opinion, is to shut this down.”

  Some of the board members took issue with Rodrick’s characterization of the BID as not being successful.

  James Capone, owner of Capone’s Restaurant and also a Board of Education member, is on the BID board. He said that COVID inadvertently helped downtown once the Downtown Nights Out began, and restaurants opened their doors. This tradition continues on nice nights. He said that summers used to be slow. He’s now had to hire summer help because it’s so busy.

  “I know what it feels like to have an event and bring people in,” he said.   

  Michael Hovance, owner of Perfect Swing, said he wanted to open his business downtown, and having an active BID is one of those reasons.

  Pam Piner, executive director of the Parking Authority, mentioned how there used to be a lot of vacancies downtown. Now, open spaces get filled more quickly.

  Reached for comment after this meeting, Rodrick told The Toms River Times “The bid is a private entity that taxes over 200 businesses. All the revenue goes to salaries and their building. The events they do only benefit a few stores on Washington Street. That’s not fair. We’ve encouraged them to put on firework shows on Friday nights in summer because we believe that will supercharge commerce for all businesses south of Route 37. The bid has failed to revitalize downtown, and if they do not change, we will dissolve them.”

Fireworks Logistics

  “Fireworks is a lovely idea, but a logistical nightmare,” said Alizar (Nick) Zorojew, a member of the board who used to be the executive director.

  The only place downtown to have fireworks is in Huddy Park. In order to get permits for fireworks, there can’t be any structures within 300 feet, BID members said. That makes it very difficult because there are structures within 300 feet.

  When the BID started researching fireworks shows, they found that they cost around $1,500 per minute, said Melissa Fernandez, the BID’s Marketing and Events Coordinator. Additional costs include hourly rates for the police, fire company, and traffic safety. There’s also a state permit that could be in excess of $400. There are other fees involved depending on the location that gets picked and if Route 9 would need to be closed.

  Some of these payments would need to get made even if the weather causes it to be canceled, BID members said. They estimated $126,000 for ten shows.

  Some parents might not bring their kids just to see a short fireworks show, Fernandez said. There might have to be something else going on – some kind of entertainment.

  Bennett said that to make up that kind of money, she’d have to either cut staff or cut events (and refund money in relation to those cancelled events).

  There’s also a cost analysis that needs to be done for every event that the BID does. If something is costing $20,000, for example, then the businesses should be getting that much profit, they said.

Fireworks Deal

  There was a special Township Council meeting on March 13 for a fire budget vote. The BID requested that the council take action on their budget then. Sometime between the March 6 BID meeting and the March 13 Township Council meeting, a deal was struck where there would be five fireworks shows. The council then passed a resolution to later have a public hearing on the budget.

  During this meeting, Ciccozzi said “the BID was held hostage to put fireworks in. It’s not the township’s money.”

  As someone who owns property downtown, he said that for years the only thing keeping downtown going was the fact that it was the county seat. Now, special events bring hundreds of thousands of people. “This is the best I’ve ever seen downtown.”

  Bennett gave a prepared speech at the meeting. “With the support from our mayor and council, we are thrilled to unveil plans for over 68 permitted events, alongside five firework shows, to grace the heart of our beloved Downtown this year,” she said. “As we embark on this exciting journey, we extend our appreciation to the mayor and council for their support and commitment to the revitalization of Downtown Toms River. It is through our collaborative efforts and shared vision that we can truly make a difference and create a Downtown that we can all be proud of.”

  After the meeting, Bennett said that the money for the fireworks will come from increased sponsorships and that no jobs or other events will get cut.

  “I’m pleased they listened to reason and are headed in the right direction,” Rodrick said after the meeting. “Fireworks shows will supercharge the economy south of Route 37. I bet they’ll do 10 next year.”

  He noted that there are Wednesday night fireworks at the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, and this could pull vacationers downtown.