By Rob Bell | PA NJ Radio News
Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio adamantly declared Wednesday night that if a commercial event on the scale of the town-wide dinner hosted Aug. 13 by Dawn dish soap were proposed to the city again with such a short turnaround time frame, he would turn it down.
“I would say no!” declared DelVecchio. His sentiments were echoed immediately by his wife JoAnne, who coordinated the event for the city.
The mayor and his wife’s comments were made at a sparsely-attended special city council “debriefing” Wednesday evening at the Phillip L. Pittore Justice Center in Lambertville. While attendance was light, those who came had a lot to say about the dinner, which the mayor insisted was “worth the inconvenience” experienced by residents and businesses on North Union because “this is going to bring people to town.”
Lambertville residents were invited by Procter & Gamble’s Dawn dish soap division to a free spaghetti dinner served at a 2,000-foot picnic table that stretched six blocks along North Union Street. Spots filled quickly for the event, with many taking advantage of what they viewed as a fun community event and participation in the filming of a television commercial. P&G designed the messy three-course meal to show in an ad how a single bottle of Dawn could clean thousands of dishes.
Some derided the event at the time for health and environmental issues they said are associated with the chemical components of the dish soap, and others underscored the unmet food needs of area disadvantaged, negative perceived impact on local commerce, and annoyance to residents in the immediate event staging area. A consistent theme of Wednesday night’s commentary was what some considered poor communication and coordination between the city and impacted residents and business owners.
For example, preparation for filming the ad included construction of 150 wooden picnic tables running six blocks end to end down the mixed commercial/residential North Union Street, which was closed for 24 hours starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 12. The tables were noisily built into the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 13, neighbors say.
Claire Adas, owner of Antick Furniture on North Union, insisted the event was bad for her business, and that the construction kept her up most of the night. She called out the mayor and council for their repeated attempts to compare the Dawn dinner to the city’s annual Shad Festival, saying the dinner was “not at all like Shadfest, because Shadfest brings people into town,” while this event left North Union “a ghost town” all day Sunday.
“We will agree to disagree,” responded DelVecchio. “We knew North Union Street would be inconvenienced, but we felt it was worth it.”
He underscored up the “long-term benefits” of the event, including social media coverage, Tina Mowry commentary on “NY Live,” a YouTube segment on the event, and local press coverage. The mayor also cited income to the city, including reimbursed expenses from P&G in the amount of $25,761 for the police department, the fire department, the rescue squad and lost meter parking income. He says “direct spending” from the event to the city added up to $102,000 for hotels, meals, catering and taxes. DelVecchio also said the Fisherman’s Mark charity received a new laptop for their food pantry, and area residents took home 150 free picnic tables valued at $15,000.
The city said P&G had 250 staffers onsite, along with armed and unarmed private security guards working with Lambertville police both inside and along the perimeter of the event, including residential Lambert Lane, which was blocked by a vehicle and two armed guards. Police Chief Bruce Cocuzza said that about 20% of the private guards were armed.
“With today’s terrorist activity, there are a lot of nutzos out there,” observed Cocuzza.
Beth Caruso, who owns the Galleria on North Union in the heart of the event location, told council members that the Saturday night closing time was changed three times. First she was told it was a 10 p.m. street closing, then it was changed to 9 p.m., and finally she says signs appeared closing the road at 8 p.m. Since she is open until 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, the road closure cost her customers, Caruso explained. Worse yet, according to Caruso, summer Sundays are the busiest days of the year, but she decided to close during the Dawn dinner because her customers could not get through the roadblocks, and her employees had nowhere to park their cars.
“Next time we’ll do better — we’ll give you a time,” Mayor DelVecchio replied.
Earlier in the meeting, he had described how quickly the massive event occurred from start to finish. DelVecchio said the city was first approached on June 19 about the commercial — Lambertville did not apply for it. He said the city was picked over two other competing locations by event producer Pinpoint Productions on June 20. The mayor said that’s when got an informal nod of approval from the city council.
He went on to explain that two meetings were held with North Union street residents and business owners before the Aug. 13 event. DelVecchio also said no chemicals were spilled during the dish washing part of the event — it was all collected in grey water tubs and taken to the local sewage plant for treatment.
The city council agreed an event of this magnitude was not likely to occur in Lambertville again anytime soon, and that a formal permitting process should be created for any future similar events. That process should include stipulations for more direct compensation to affected businesses, and encourage more direct business to the town, they said.
While not everyone may have left Wednesday evening’s meeting whistling a happy tune, it’s clear that DelVecchio’s decision to hold a special public question-and-answer session on the Aug. 13 dinner will probably help defuse any residual controversy over the event.