By Vin Gopal
The arts play an important role in supporting Main Street businesses and contributing to local tourism while providing sources of entertainment that benefit Monmouth County residents.
In the 11th Legislative District, residents have broad choices of entertainment, from local boardwalks to theaters like Count Basie in Red Bank, the NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch to the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove. Music and history lovers can visit the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University and Freehold or learn about Asbury Park’s rich musical heritage at the African American Music Project in Asbury Park.
Many of these businesses and nonprofit organizations that residents have come to rely on took a big hit during the pandemic. As we celebrate New Jersey Arts, Culture, History, and Tourism Month in June, we urge residents to enjoy local boardwalks, theaters, restaurants and other Main Street businesses to support the state’s $47.9 billion tourism industry, which draws people from around the world and is an integral part of the state’s economy.
We continue to work in Trenton to support our boardwalks, tourism and cultural nonprofits and businesses. Here’s a look at some recent legislation to help these nonprofit organizations and small businesses prosper.
The State Senate unanimously passed our legislation, co-sponsored with Senator Shirley Turner, to allow towns to issue a special liquor license to nonprofits with an art-house movie theater. Allowing art-house movie theaters like Count Basie to enjoy the same beverage service offerings available at other nonprofit arts locations that host musical and theatrical performances draws more people to the businesses around them. This would enrich the cultural and entertainment opportunities for towns and neighborhoods and generate more business and exposure for stores and restaurants around them.
We continue to press for movement on our cosponsored bill with Senator Anthony Bucco to appropriate $70 million in federal funds to NJ Economic Development Authority to support arts and culture organizations, including for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations, negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic. The EDA would work with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in awarding grants to support the financial recovery, resiliency, and growth of qualifying arts and culture organizations.
We also continue to support local breweries through a bill cosponsored with Senator Linda Greenstein to remove the undue burden of new restrictions from The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. By cutting much of the A.B.C. red tape when small business breweries want to hold events and coordinate with certain food vendors, we can reverse the nearly 40 percent profit declines they have experienced due to over-restrictions.
We also have proposed the creation of a $100 million Boardwalk Fund to rehabilitate and update Jersey Shore boardwalks and make them more resilient. The importance of a viable and safe boardwalk to local economies cannot be overstated in attracting customers to other businesses.
The Boardwalk Fund will utilize American Rescue Plan (ARP) COVID State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which have been dedicated by the Governor and the Legislature to a wide array of vital economic recovery and revitalization projects. The application process will be managed by the Department of Community Affairs’ Office of Disaster Recovery and Mitigation, which will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to shore municipalities.
We want to ensure that small businesses are able to stay competitive by building their companies through the internet. So, it’s gratifying that both the Senate and Assembly have passed our legislation to require the NJ Business Action Center establish and maintain a public database of vacant commercial space available for purchase or lease by small businesses.
As we continue to go through the state budget process for FY2024, we will continue to fight for the Shore’s fair share of support for small businesses as well as the arts, culture, history and tourism.
Senator Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Elected in 2018, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, Senator Gopal represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township, and West Long Branch in the State Senate.