The popular Garden State Film Festival, which has been based in Asbury Park since it held its first event in 2003, may be moving, perhaps to Atlantic City.
Film festival co-founder Diane Raver said earlier this week that she is in discussion with several municipalities about hosting the April event.
“We are exploring other municipalities and Atlantic City is one of them. But no decision has been made at this time. It will truly be a business decision and we are exploring possibilities for a home we can grow in,” she said.
Raver said she appreciates the time that the film festival has spent in Asbury Park but she added that the business climate here has dramatically changed over the years.
“We feel the need to explore additional options where we can expand to our full potential,” she said.
Boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette may not install state-mandated fire-sprinkler systems in the Convention Hall complex, which includes the Paramount Theatre, forcing the facility to close. The theatre is one of the film festival’s major venues.
In a press release dated July 17, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Board (CRDA) announced it heard a proposal from the Garden State Film Festival to move the annual event from Asbury Park to Atlantic City.
“Citing the opportunity to better serve its guests, increase its ever growing attendance and even relocate its offices to Atlantic City, the Garden State Film Festival’s preliminary determination of project eligibility received unanimous support from the CRDA Board,” the release said.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Atlantic City,” Board Chairman James Kehoe said. “This event has shown continued growth throughout its history and could become a signature event in Atlantic City.”
The CRDA is charged with attracting new investment and development of non-gaming attractions for Atlantic City. But local Asbury Park business owners will not be too happy to see the festival pull up roots. In recent years the festival has attracted upwards of 30,000 people to the city over the festival weekend.
Restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach, who owns four restaurants and two retail businesses in Asbury Park, said such a move “would be terrible.”
“Diane has worked really hard to build something in Asbury Park during a time of year when we really need a kick start and its loss will be another blow to businesses all around the city. The city has to understand it is important to attract and keep these events,” she said.
Schlossbach cited the loss of the Bamboozle Festival as another setback to events held in the city.
“These losses are long-term and the city just seems so short-sighted sometimes. Not everybody in the city is directly involved by these events but they do bring another demographic of people to Asbury Park,” she said.
Kay Harris, owner of the Asbury Galleria in the Convention Hall Arcade, said that the film festival leaving “will be a huge loss for Asbury Park.”
She said the festival, held in April, brought in people during a time of year that would probably be slow for businesses.
“It always brought people in that would otherwise not be here and it always generated a lot of foot traffic,” she said.
Harris added that losing the Bamboozle Festival was also a bitter disappointment.
“That was a real windfall of our business,” she said.
But Harris said that she wishes Raver and the Garden State Film Festival well no matter what they decide.
“I know they are trying to do what’s best for the festival but I hope she will stay in Asbury Park if she can – it would be a benefit to everybody,” she said.
The Garden State Film Festival was created in 2002 after a chance encounter in a Sea Girt grocery store by 25-year film industry veteran Diane Raver and the well-known Hollywood actor Robert Pastorelli.
Through his deep ties to Hollywood, Pastorelli and Raver were able to bring an all-encompassing event to Asbury Park and the first Garden State Film Festival film festival premiered in Asbury Park in 2003.
Since that time, industry notables such as Glenn Close, Frank Vincent, Batman movie producer Michael Uslan, Austin Pendleton, Kurtwood Smith, James Gandolfini, Budd Schulberg, Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen, Lainie Kazan, Diane Ladd, Ed Asner and others have lent their support.