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Mayors, Politicians and Local Business Owners Support Project Play Initiative

After a breakfast on Tuesday morning, Mayor Zimmer said the city might consider partially funding playground renovations in Church Square Park.

At the first official public meeting about Project Play in July, several supporters of the initiative expressed frustration about the pace at which the proposed renovations of three playgrounds in Church Square Park were advancing.

If Tuesday's event at Elysian Café was any indication, Project Play got a major shot of adrenaline from Mayor Dawn Zimmer and former Mayor Dave Roberts that the initiative's supporters hope will put the project on a fast track to completion.

Several local officials including Zimmer, Roberts, Sixth Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi, Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano, and Director of Environmental Services Jennifer Maier attended the "Project Play Charity Breakfast" in addition to many local business and restaurant owners and other residents who support the initiative.

Speaking before a gathering of about 55 people, Stoffel thanked local politicians such as Zimmer and Roberts for lending support to the initiative. Stoffel told the audience an amusing anecdote about how she enlisted the former mayor to get involved with Project Play by looking up his phone number, which is publicly listed, and giving him a call. Roberts answered the phone and, after listening to the persuasive Stoffel's pitch, responded that he'd be glad to lend support to the cause, Stoffel told the crowd.

Roberts and Zimmer made remarks and both commended Stoffel and Gannon's activism and noted the influx of young families to Hoboken in recent years as a reason why Project Play has experienced strong public support.

"This is by no means a partisan issue," said Roberts. "Everyone wants to advance the future of our children and young people."

"I cannot thank the business community enough for supporting this project," said Zimmer, pledging that her administration plans to work to get the project completed.

David Liebler, who recently launched the restaurant aggregation website EatDrinkHoboken.com and has been a staunch supporter of Project Play announced a new restaurant VIP card fundraising program and showed the crowd a video that detailed the scope of Project Play's proposed upgrades and the fundraising progress made thus far.

Liebler displayed examples of the VIP card, which participating restaurants will sell for $5 and will entitle patrons who buy the card to various perks such as discounts between five and 50 percent when dining or drinking at participating restaurants and bars from now until Dec. 31. All the proceeds from sales of the VIP cards will be donated to Project Play.

The eight-minute video, which can be viewed here, featured Stoffel and Gannon in Church Square Park discussing the details of their proposed upgrades with Liebler, who served as the host of the piece.

There was a moment of levity when, attempting to dispel a persistent myth about their proposed upgrades that has actually led to resistance from a small faction of residents, Stoffel and Gannon emphasized that the proposals do not call for the removal of any trees in the park.

"All the trees stay!" Liebler exclaimed on the video, eliciting a round of laughter from the crowd.

Stoffel said Project Play has been able to raise $25,000 so far, will be raising another $25,000 with the HoBOOken Halloween 5K on October 30. If all goes according to plan with the VIP card, Liebler said it should raise another $50,000, which will bring Project Play's fundraising total to $100,000

Zimmer left the event early, but during a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon said that when Project Play reaches the $100,000 fundraising plateau, the city may consider contributing the rest of the funds needed to complete the renovations.

Zimmer said the city wants to do some environmental testing on the areas to make sure there's no contamination of the grounds. Depending on what the testing reveals about the state of the land, the total cost could go significantly higher than the roughly $300,000 estimated cost.

When asked if the city would use money from the $12 million dollar budget surplus, Zimmer responded, "I don't foresee that happening." She added that any decision to partially fund Project Play with tax dollars would be subject to city council approval.

Zimmer continued saying, "We are going to continue researching grants to fund this project, especially if there are any environmental issues."

Since the crowd at Elysian was invite-only, the sentiment was, predictably, very supportive among residents. Scott Flaherty, the owner of Rome Pizzeria and Grill on Hudson Place and a First Ward resident, said he planned to sell the VIP cards in his pizza parlor and has agreed to donate twenty pizzas to the 5K run.

"I have a vested interest in seeing this community develop good, safe parks," Flaherty said about why he supports Project Play. Flaherty, 33, and his wife are expecting their first child in November. "I think this is a great community and any improvements, especially for children, makes a lot of sense."

Several residents told Patch they hope that the city would help fund the renovations with money from the budget surplus, citing the difficulty of raising funds during a recession as a main reason why.

The Reverend Anthony Forbes, 41, was born and raised in Hoboken and said he is backing the initiative because he can remember playing as a teenager on some of the same playground equipment that still exists in Church Square Park. Forbes, a life coach who lives in the Fifth Ward, said the playground areas are long overdue for an upgrade.

"The equipment that's there is not all that friendly," Forbes said. "It says that we need to move forward with the times."

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