The closure of George Street to vehicles has enabled some establishments to expand their footprint in downtown. Credit: Charlie Kratovil / New Brunswick Today

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The City Council of New Brunswick seems poised to once again close three blocks of the city’s main drag to vehicles.

An agenda item up for a public hearing and final vote on June 5 would lead to a closure of George Street the following day, if the measure is signed into law by Mayor James Cahill.

If approved, the area normally set aside for motor vehicles to travel would be opened up to pedestrians from Albany Street to Bayard Street through Sunday, September 1.

The idea was originally borne out of desperation to create viable space for the area’s bars and restaurants to use during the COVID-19 pandemic, when indoor spaces were closed or at limited capacity. It is expected several of the establishments along the route will once again be given city permission to expand their liquor licensed premises to include the street.

Since 2020, the city has closed and opened up the street, sometimes without much notice. In this case, the City Council plans to pass its ordinance as an “emergency” measure to rush this year’s closure.

Earlier this year, the City Council heard a presentation about plans for a potential permanent closure, and what options the city might have to spruce up the space.

Those plans were crafted by DMR Architects, which conducted an “impact study” of the potential new layouts for the section of the city-owned street.

According to TapInto New Brunswick, at their February meeting, the “City Market” Board of Directors (also referred to as “New Brunswick City Center”) voted unanimously to support turning the area into a pedestrian plaza permanently.

The board is led by Doug Schneider, the elected Edison school board member who owns one of the biggest beneficiaries of outdoor dining: Tavern on George (formerly Tumulty’s), which expands its capacity during periods when cars are blocked from the street.

Schneider also owns the Olive Branch and Clydz, and recently purchased another business along the closure route, turning the Social Room into a Greek restaurant and the former Perle nightclub into Kefi Ballroom, a venue that can be rented out.

But the City Market vision for a new pedestrian plaza won’t happen without City Council approval, and likely, a few million dollars.

So, for the fifth straight summer season, the area will be closed to cars only temporarily.

Early in the pandemic, the closures were in only in effect about 45 hours per week during times of peak usage on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. They also continued through the winter of 2020-21 and businesses erected heated tents to cope with the cold.

A “Dueling Pianos” event drew a big crowd to Tavern on George’s tent in the middle of George Street just a few days before Christmas 2020.
Jason Levin/New Brunswick Today Credit: Jason Levin / New Brunswick Today

Typically, city ordinances take 20 days before they become effective after being signed by the Mayor. But, with a two-thirds vote, the Council can declare an emergency and make certain laws take effect sooner.

According to the Faulkner Act, the state law on which the city’s government is based, a resolution is required to declare the emergency by a two-thirds vote of the seven-member Council. If the measure secures at least five affirmative votes, and the Mayor signs off, the closure could take effect as early as the following day.

But no such resolution emergency declaration is on the Council’s agenda for the meeting on Wednesday, June 5. Rather, the ordinance itself simply states, “This Ordinance, hereby deemed an emergency, shall become effective on Thursday, June 6, 2024 following final adoption and publication as required by law.”

If the typical meeting procedures are followed, members of the public will get up to five minutes to ask questions and make comments about the George Street ordinance before the City Council votes on it.

The meeting will be held on the top floor of City Hall, and it starts at 5pm on June 5.

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Editor at New Brunswick Today | 732-993-9697 | editor@newbrunswicktoday.com | Website

Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.

Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.