'Tall ships' on the way; Two million expected to jam waterfront for maritime July 4 celebration
There will be so many ships on the Hudson River this summer that it might be possible to get to Manhattan from New Jersey just by jumping from deck to deck. More than 50,000 ships, including the USS John F. Kennedy, 150 "tall ships," and more than three dozen foreign naval war ships, are scheduled to sail down the Hudson on July 4 to celebrate the first U.S Independence Day of the new millennium. President Clinton will be on hand to review what organizers are calling the largest assembly of foreign sailing vessels and naval warships ever. He will board the Kennedy to watch the 11-mile long parade of ships head south down the river at 9:45 a.m. To cap off the record-setting event, Macy's is planning to present an Independence Day fireworks display that is billed as the largest pyrotechnic display ever. More than 60,000 shells will be launched from multiple sites over the New York harbor. "This is going to be the largest waterfront spectacle in our history," said State Sen. Bernard Kenny, who has been involved in the planning process, Wednesday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event." All of that eye candy is expected to draw record numbers of tourists to New Jersey's waterfront. More than two million binocular toting, flag waving people are expected to line the Hudson County riverfront, say local officials, who began planning for this day more than two years ago. The majority of the spectators are expected to congregate at Liberty State Park, where one million people are expected, and in Hoboken. A heavy turnout is expected in Jersey City, Weehawken and Bayonne as well. The spectacle, which organizers unabashedly call the "greatest event in maritime history," is being organized by OpSail Inc., a non-profit New York- and Washington D.C.-based organization dedicated to designing and implementing maritime events that will promote goodwill among nations. Since it was founded by President Kennedy in 1961, OpSail has organized the four largest tall ships events in history: the World's Fair in 1964, the bicentennial celebration in 1976, the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986 and the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the new world in 1992. While each of those tall ships gatherings floated past Hudson County, OpSail 2000 presents a new set of challenges since the recent development of the county's waterfront will bring more tourists to areas that were previously inaccessible. New local challenge
"This presents a tremendous law enforcement and safety challenge," said Kenny. "Our waterfront is very accessible today. Not too many years ago it was fenced off. If you wanted to go to the waterfront you had to go to Liberty State Park or Exchange Place. But today our new waterfront parks will act as a magnet, drawing people from all over to come and see the ships and the fireworks." To help cope with the crowds, Kenny and other local officials have wrestled an $8.3 million commitment from the state to defray the additional expenses that local municipalities, New Jersey Transit and the State Police will have to incur as a result of the event. Hudson County municipalities will use approximately $4 million of the assistance package to cover overtime expenses for local police and provide additional transportation services, Kenny said Wednesday. One of the largest challenges that local law enforcement officials face is regulating the number of people who are admitted to each waterfront viewing location. Officials say that venues will be open on a first-come, first-serve basis and that once a certain area reaches capacity they would like to have shuttle buses available to bus the overflow to a less-crowded site. At Liberty State Park, where state officials say they may add a concert featuring Italian opera singer Andrea Boccelli to the day's festivities, several adjustments will be made on July 4th to try and make getting to and from the park easier. Exit 14 B of the New Jersey Turnpike will be closed. No vehicular traffic will be allowed in the park, and Route 185 will be closed. Shuttle buses will run from Newark, Giants Stadium and other locations that have yet to be announced to and from the park. In addition to serving as a prime viewing spot on July 4, Liberty State Park will also berth several of the large ships that will participate in the flotilla. The A.J. Meerwald, which serves as New Jersey's official "tall ship," is slated to drop anchor there along with four other tall ships in the days before and after the Independence Day ceremonies. The 115 foot long 70 foot high Meerwald, which is one of the last authentic Delaware Bay oyster schooners in operation today, will be open for public tours on the 3rd and then again on the 5th through the 9th. Some concern
In Hoboken, local officials tremble at the thought of throngs of tourists motoring down the mile square city's already-crowded streets on July 4. "Mass transit is the way to go if you are going to go to Hoboken to watch this," said Jeff Jotz, a spokesperson for the OpSail Commission that the county organized to help coordinate the event. "Driving is another story." City Councilman Tony Soares, who also serves as the chairman of the commission, said that he is working to ensure that the disruption to the city's residents is as minimal as possible. But he warned that Hoboken's well-known bar scene and accessible waterfront are going to be a big draw. "We have to recognize that this is a national event that is happening whether we like or not," he said. Soares added that while it might be tempting to restrict access to the waterfront to the city's residents, "that would not be fair to other communities." As chairman of the commission Soares said that he was also trying to secure a tour of the USS Kennedy for local school children. The Kennedy is the largest non-nuclear ship in the world. Other municipalities are making adjustments to accommodate the crowds too. Those adjustments include the closure of Boulevard East in Weehawken and River Road on July 4.