BELMAR, NJ — After being held a stone’s throw from the Belmar beachfront for three decades, the New Jersey Seafood Festival is headed to a new venue — the borough’s downtown district.
Belmar officials currently are hammering out details for the move, which will shift the popular event to be held on May 17, 18, and 19 to Belmar’s shopping hub, with food vendors to be situated in the Belmar Plaza parking lot, arts and crafts vendors set up along Main Street between Eighth and 10th Avenue, and entertainment featured in adjacent Pyanoe Plaza.
The move is aimed at giving the borough’s year-round merchants — stores, restaurants, bars and other retail establishments — an early boost for the summer season, as well as alleviate parking and traffic congestion caused by the annual festival.
“We’re working on the logistics now,” said Mayor Mark Walsifer. “Having it in a location that’s in the center of town will give our businesses a boost, and help our residents in easing traffic congestion and parking problems. For security reasons, it's a better place for our police department to contain.”
Now in its 33rd year, the event has been held along Silver Lake, which stretches across Fifth through Eighth Avenues from Ocean Avenue to D Street — growing in popularity to such a point that in June 2015 a record 200,000 visitors forced Belmar officials to close all roads leading into the small seashore town for four hours to relieve massive overcrowding and traffic gridlock.
Although in 2016 the event was scaled back and moved to two weeks before Memorial Day, parking and traffic congestion problems have still persisted, especially when ideal weather conditions attract a large influx of attendees into the 1.6-square-mile community.
“Our town has changed so much (since the first seafood festival),” Walsifer said. “The festival has gotten so big and has been creating so many problems, especially with closing off Ocean Avenue and pushing traffic through the town to Main Street.”
With the move to Belmar’s central shopping district, visitors will no longer have to park in municipal parking lots on the west side of town and be transported by borough-provided trolleys to the festival. And that goes for attendees arriving by train as well. “The Belmar Train Station is right there, and people can just walk into the festival,” Walsifer said.
As for the seashore community’s downtown businesses, many merchants are welcoming the news, including the Belmar Business Partnership, the all-volunteer, nonprofit group that manages the borough’s special improvement district.
“The Belmar Business Partnership has had great success with its own events on Main Street — including Belmar Cruise Nights and the Belmar Pirate Walk — throughout the years,” said Christine Cardellino, a member of its board of trustees. “We are supportive of the borough’s proposal to relocate the annual seafood festival from Ocean Avenue to Main Street. Such a move would bring lots of visitors and families to this area of town and provide great exposure to the distinctive retail shops, clothing boutiques, service businesses and restaurants that downtown Belmar has to offer the community.”
The mayor said that once the final details for the move are worked out, festival vendors from previous years — and those signed up for this year — will be informed about the change.