Renderings of a preliminary design for the project illustrate how the center would capitalize on the dramatic views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. The Hudson Riverfront PAC would have a mission to serve all of Hudson County and the greater metropolitan area.
"Having something on this side of the river, readily accessible, I think will just add to the total fabric of what we offer our residents," says Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, an ex-officio member of the organization's board of trustees.
Bruce Sherman, executive director of the Hudson Riverfront PAC, first got the idea for a waterfront arts center four years ago while attending a performance at Bargemusic in Brooklyn. While enjoying the views of Manhattan (the venue is located on a barge on the East River), Sherman envisioned a performing arts center on the Hudson County waterfront.
Sherman - an arts administrator who lives in Weehawken - established a nonprofit group that was incorporated as the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center in April 2002. He also has formed a 13-member board of directors, which includes influential figures such as Paquito D'Rivera, who is a Grammy Award-winning Latin jazz musician who lives in North Bergen; and Marie Garibaldi, a former associate justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Sherman says billions have been spent to develop Hudson County's Gold Coast, and now is the time to invest just a tiny fraction of that amount in a cultural center that will serve the entire community.
In the past two years, the Hudson Riverfront PAC board has made great strides toward that goal.
A site has been identified, and plans are taking shape to ensure that the arts center will be built there. The proposed pier site - located just north of the Chart House pier - is owned by local developer Hartz Mountain Industries. Hartz Mountain already has committed to donate the site to the township of Weehawken under the terms of an earlier development deal. In March, the Weehawken Township Council endorsed the plan to build the Hudson Riverfront PAC on the site.
The group's proposal is also in alignment with the 2001 Hudson County Master Plan, which includes among its priorities support for the development of a performing arts center.
Building an audience
To let the public know about its plans and to start building an audience, the group began producing concerts last summer. More than 800 music fans turned out for the first performance in August of 2003, featuring Hudson County's own Paquito D'Rivera.
From October through May, the organization held eight monthly concerts - known as the UBS Atrium Series - at Lincoln Harbor. Beginning next Wednesday, June 30, the group will present a series of free outdoor Summer Concerts on the Hudson. (See "The lineup.")
"The success of these concerts will mark a turning point for our organization," Sherman says. In addition to spreading the word about plans for the Hudson Riverfront PAC, the performances - to be held in Weehawken's Lincoln Harbor Park, not far from the site that's slated for the center - will give concertgoers an idea of what it might be like to have a performing arts center along the banks of the Hudson. The park, a grassy 1.5-acre triangle at the north end of Lincoln Harbor, has the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.
"At a concert on the waterfront," Sherman says, "there's an integration of the natural splendor of the river, the music, and the view. It's a wonderful artistic experience."
Board member D'Rivera agrees. "It's about time to have a place like that on this side," he says. "All we need is money."
Sherman says a capital fund-raising campaign will be launched this fall.
Summer Concerts on the Hudson
Where: Lincoln Harbor Park, on the waterfront in Weehawken
When: Each performance begins at 7 p.m.
What to bring: A blanket or a lawn chair
Parking: Free parking available in the Lincoln Harbor lot
Rain location: Weehawken High School
For more info: See www.hrpac.org or call (201) 716-4540.
Wednesday, June 30: Ollabelle
New York group playing a rootsy mix of gospel, blues, bluegrass, and country.
Wednesday, July 14: Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas
Zydeco band direct from Louisiana.
Saturday, July 24: The Paquito D'Rivera Ensemble
Six-time Grammy Award-winning Latin jazz great.
Wednesday, August 4: The Holmes Brothers
Blues-based roots music.
Wednesday, August 25: The Duprees
'50s doo-wop legends known for "See the Pyramids."