MILLVILLE - Familiar summertime events that annually draw about 10,000 people to the Glasstown Arts District have been eliminated from this year's calendar.
Millville Development Corp. Executive Director Marianne Lods said with funds held back at the state level and the potential elimination of its Urban Enterprise Zone designation, the MDC's June and July events, BikeFest and SummerFest, have been canceled.
Both events routinely attract crowds in excess of 5,000 people to the city's downtown each year.
The MDC operating budget was approved at the local and state levels, but the funds are currently frozen in Trenton. However, the organization's advertising and marketing budget, which helps pay for the summer events, has not yet been approved.
Lods said even if the funds are approved and Gov. Chris Christie's March 16 budget address doesn't call for the elimination or trimming of the UEZ, it's too late for BikeFest and SummerFest.
Allison Corson, an event coordinator with the MDC, was recently laid off because of the frozen UEZ funds. Lods herself could be out of a job if the program is cut, although she remains optimistic about her future as well as the downtown's prospects.
At a Millville Downtown Merchants Association meeting Monday, Lods said the focus was on going without, not giving up.
"Look," she said. "We're all in this together. Even if we don't know our final circumstances with the funding, we've got to stick together and do those little things that make a difference.
"We all have to think a little more creatively. No one is saying that the ship is sinking right now. We're just trying to think a little bit outside the box. We didn't start this thing with a lot of money, so we've got to get back to that way of thinking."
Event stalwarts such as Third Fridays will continue because they don't require the funding or the coordination of larger-scale events, Lods said. It's up to merchants to help make the town attractive to visitors by organizing their own events, hosting musicians and doing the small things, such as planting flowers, that make the town look better.
At Bogart's Bookstore and Café in Millville, owner Amy Lombardo, who is also vice president of the merchants association, has for years devised creative events as a way of attracting customers. With live music a staple on days other than Third Fridays and special events - such as a Spam cook-off - bringing people in, Bogart's has made the most of its time between major events.
"We've got to get back to grass roots," Lombardo said. "We have to start making do for ourselves."
Lods said merchants and the MDC have to learn how to market themselves by cost-effective means. Social networking sites should be a primary go-to for businesses looking to plug themselves and their events.
On the MDC side, where advertisements have come in the form of television commercials, two-page inserts in newspapers and ads in publications throughout the region, Lods said most everything will make the move online.
A recent ad campaign developed by Graphicus Communications, called "My Art, My Millville," was successful in bringing visitors to Cumberland County from places such as Cape May and Atlantic County, she said. But without funding, there's no place for things like that to continue.
Beyond the short-term considerations, officials are worried about a Millville without its UEZ designation. An e-mail has circulated between merchants and public officials calling for help in saving the program.
Denise Jackson, the Vineland/Millville UEZ Administrator, recruited business owners to band together for an informal petition to be sent to the governor's office before he makes his March 16 budget announcement.
At Tuesday's Millville Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Millville Mayor Tim Shannon asked all business owners to participate.
"We need your help. We need to save our UEZ," he said. "Get involved and send a clear message that we need the UEZ in Millville and Vineland."
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