It was supposed to happen last weekend, but all of a sudden, it didn’t.
People are scratching their heads after the plug was unexpectedly pulled on a planned block festival on Johnson Avenue just days before it was set to take place.
Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corp., the group behind these business-centric events, made the reasons for the cancellation clear: Money. But what has caused the sudden cash flow issues has been left to rampant community speculation — the biggest noting it may be no coincidence the cancellation comes on the heels of a major election defeat of KRVC’s biggest benefactor, state Sen. Jeffrey Klein.
“KRVC has been proud to produce these special, free events for the community for the past several years,” executive director Tracy McCabe Shelton said. “We feel terrible about having to cancel this one, and especially on such short notice.”
But putting such festivals together isn’t cheap, Shelton said, typically costing between $15,000 and $20,000.
“When we crunched the numbers, we could not make it work,” she said. “We simply cannot afford it.”
Money goes to a variety of street festival features, Shelton said, like tents, a stage, tables, chairs, generators, sound equipment and insurance. And that doesn’t even begin to include the people required to make it happen, like technical and logistical staff, musicians and street performers.
KRVC depends on donations and grants — and yes, a lot of that money has come from Klein’s ability to divert state money to local coffers. But even with those funds, there’ve been a few close calls where KRVC nearly had to cancel events, Shelton said. And not just block festivals but even RiverFestBX was threatened, as well as some outdoor movies and concerts.
Money wasn’t the only problem, however, Shelton said. Another concern was weather. While Sunday promised to be — and turned out — gorgeous, there were worries Hurricane Florence in the south could disrupt weather in New York City.
“We’ve produced the events in terrible weather conditions in the past and have determined that it is wasteful and even dangerous to take that risk,” Shelton said.
But some residents aren’t buying it.
“Wouldn’t they have known whether they had enough money or not before today?” asked Sue Ellen Dodell, who’s lived in the area since 1984. “It does seem very strange to me that the day after (Klein) lost an election, (KRVC) would cancel this event.”
Dodell was a frequent attendee to the KRVC block parties, even looking forward to seeing her neighbors and friends participating in a smorgasbord of festivities.
“It was just a good place for people to meet each other,” she said.
But Shelton insists the cancellation had nothing to do with the Sept. 13 primary election where Klein was upset by political newcomer Alessandra Biaggi. She acknowledged, however, KRVC has received sizable cash infusions from the former leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference over the past few years, enabling them “to serve our community at a very high level.”
“Every year that funding is uncertain, but since we have received it for the last few years, we have built up our organization,” Shelton said. “Now, there is greater uncertainty, and we will likely have to modify our programs, events and services.”
Even with Shelton’s explanation, however, something still didn’t sit right with Marcia Yerman, a member of the anti-Klein grassroots group NYCD16-Indivisible. She recalled seeing fire trucks parking along Johnson Avenue the Thursday ahead of the festival putting up no-parking signs.
“This opens up a real can of worms,” Yerman said. “They hired musicians and tents. Restaurants were involved. I know that in the past (KRVC) has been very supportive of Klein. I felt sorry for the kids who were looking forward to it, and for the musicians who were having a chance to perform. This is something that’s not kosher.”
But even if Klein’s loss were somehow tied to the cancellation, Yerman’s OK with that.
“If the choice is between having a state senator who represents my beliefs as opposed to somebody like Jeff Klein, who did not,” Yerman said, “then I can live without a street fair.”
The short notice also left Shira Silverman a bit baffled. But it’s not that Silverman and other residents want to bash KRVC. They’d just like fuller answers.
“We are grateful to them for everything they do,” Silverman said. “But in order for us to be able to work with that, we have to be able to trust them. They’re spending our money. We should know how they spend it. They’re a community organization, and it’s our community.”
Furthermore, Silverman said, a nonprofit like KRVC shouldn’t be overly dependent on revenue from a single elected official.
“Clearly, they feel so uncertain about what’s going to happen in the future that they got really scared,” Silverman said. “How do you run an organization like that, that it’s so dependent on a primary?”
Despite the uncertainty, KRVC says it’s figuring things out money-wise — and welcomes community input.
“Our goal is to be able to serve the community as well as we can for as long as we can,” KRVC said in a statement Sunday morning.
That means conserving their now limited remaining resources, spending astutely, and finding new cash spigots to the tune of $250,000 a year if they want to keep throwing the same type of shindigs. Yet, residents shouldn’t forget there’s a job networking event, Halloween party and others to look forward to from the organization.
In the meantime Silverman’s not just asking questions — she’s looking to set in motion a grassroots effort that could create its own street fairs in the community’s business districts.
“My 98-year-old neighbor was planning to go,” Silverman said. “You don’t have to have the fancy bouncy castle.
“The primaries are over. We’ve got our candidate. That opens up a lot of possibilities. A lot of people are engaged. Now’s our chance to really move forward.”