"It was an old dream of mine," said D'Rivera, who now resides in North Bergen, but still considers Weehawken "my second home."
"There was a lot of talk 15 years ago or so," D'Rivera said. "I love this area, but the only thing that it was lacking was a cultural center. We're desperate to have something like that. There are so many talented people who live in the area, so many musicians and artists. It's important to have a place for them."
Unfortunately, the discussions that D'Rivera had with fellow musicians and artists fell on deaf ears. The plans became dormant, the talk silenced.
Then Bruce Sherman, a former professional actor and performer who has been an active member of the Weehawken community and a member of the Weehawken Environmental Committee, decided to make a difference.
"As we watch the progression of the Hudson River waterfront, or what is called the Gold Coast, we see the need for a place for culture and the arts in Hudson County," Sherman said. "I discussed this with residents of Weehawken, the mayor, the Township Council, with artists and business people and came to a consensus that there really is a need to have an expansion of the arts."
Sherman has since organized a group of influential people who are willing to work with him to see if there is a possibility to have a performing arts center built along the waterfront in Weehawken.
Last Tuesday at a press conference in Lincoln Harbor Plaza, Sherman, D'Rivera and other members of a newly formed Board of Directors announced the formation of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center, and hope to secure funding and a location to build a 350- to 500-seat center in the near future.
As part of the new organization, Sherman, who will serve as the executive director of the HRPAC, has planned two summer concerts to perhaps create more attention to the possibility of the new center.
The HRPAC is a non-profit corporation dedicated to bringing professional performance programming to Weehawken and the region also announced a year-round program of concerts and activities.
The first round of concerts will be held in August, as HRPAC will produce two of the four concerts in the Weehawken's annual Summer Concert Series in Lincoln Harbor Plaza.
In addition to the Big Band music traditionally featured in this series, HRPAC will present one of Louisiana's hottest Zydeco bands, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, on August 14 at 7 p.m., with the renowned D'Rivera performing with the Paquito D'Rivera Ensemble on Aug. 28, also at 7 p.m.
"I can see it already and I'm so excited," said D'Rivera, the Cuban native who has recorded 30 albums in jazz, be-bop and Latin, winning Grammies for his "Portraits of Cuba," "Tropicana Nights" and "Live at the Blue Note" albums and tours the world with his ensemble. "I play everywhere, but there will be a different feeling playing here. It really is a dream come true. I'm having a ball just thinking about it."
D'Rivera, who is the artist in residence at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, recently received rave reviews for his performance in a tribute to Benny Goodman at Lincoln Center.
"But here, because it's home, I can come play in my pajamas," D'Rivera said.
In addition to the initial concerts, the HRPAC has already planned a fundraiser starring Metropolitan Opera soprano Maureen O'Flynn for November in Weehawken High School, as well as a series of concerts and events in the atrium of the UBS building, formerly PaineWebber, in Lincoln Harbor. An eclectic mix of music will be offered, including chamber, jazz, folk, and cabaret.
"We're in discussions with the management to present a series of lunchtime and evening concerts in the atrium," Sherman said. "The arts world agreed that it is a wonderful amenity, with quite a substantial number of employees that work in that building. I anticipate perhaps six-to-eight concerts throughout the year, concerts that appeal to area residents and workers."
Sherman said that a major part of the HRPAC's mission will be to "interact with the youth of the town."
"It's so important to have the artists meet with the students and demonstrate and explain what they do," Sherman said. "Every artist I talk to, they say they love to see the interest and the joy of the students, even more sometimes than performing. It's a wonderful socializing process between the artists and the students. We need to reach out to the youth of the community."
Sherman said that there are also plans to have an Arts in Education program with the Board of Education.
"To be able to go from the traditional summer concerts that the township already offered and expand the efforts throughout the year is truly exciting," Sherman said. "Then, eventually, we can build a center to hold these events in the future, maybe within three years time."
Sherman said that the center will be "moderately sized," so it would not require major space. The township currently owns several parcels of land along the waterfront, including a 13-acre section that has been set aside for a recreational park area to be built in the near future. The center could also be placed on a pier that is being built as well.
"We are currently actively pursuing a site for the center," Sherman said. "We will be looking for support from major entities, from residents and businesses, knowing that the center will benefit all concerned."
Roseland Properties and Chairman Carl Goldberg are already on board, with Roseland underwriting the cost of the D'Rivera Ensemble concert. Other major corporations, like UBS, Hartz Mountain and ARCORP, with strong bases in Weehawken, have already expressed interest.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who is also serving on the Board of Directors, believes that the efforts of Sherman and the rest of the HRPAC serve the interests of the entire community.
"A center like this will bring people to Weehawken," Turner said. "It will also tie upper Weehawken in with the waterfront and the rest of Hudson County with the waterfront. The educational benefits from it are endless. There are all kinds of possibilities. This will all be done with private funds. The council is offering our moral support."
Retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Marie Garibaldi, a long-time Weehawken resident, is also serving on the HRPAC Board.
"This is such a great, magnificent plan," Garibaldi said. "It's important to have a cultural arts center in this area. There are a lot of talented people in the area, in Weehawken, that need a place like this. The timing is perfect. Now, all we need is a lot of money. But not having a center for these artists to perform for so long hasn't been fair. I'm happy to be able to help."
HRPAC's Board of Directors commissioned a preliminary feasibility study from the New York firm Audience Research and Analysis, which indicated that the area would be able to support an arts center. The Hudson County Master Plan of 2001 has highlighted the need and desirability of a new performing arts center in the county.
Among others, HRPAC's Board includes Weehawken residents Sarah Crew, a Lincoln Center box office treasurer, Joseph "Jay" Savulich, a restaurateur and photographer, and John Steber, a theater director and actor.
D'Rivera is already making plans for future concerts, including one with his friend, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whom D'Rivera recently recorded and toured with.
"I'm going bring Yo-Yo here," D'Rivera said. "I already have the name of the concert. We'll call it 'Rice and Beans.' I'm the beans, of course."