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May 6, 2009 > UC50 Organizers Unbowed by Economic Downturn

UC50 Organizers Unbowed by Economic Downturn

By Simon Wong

Unfortunately, Union City's 50th Anniversary celebrations coincide with the worst economic downturn since the Depression. Even a sponsor, unable meet its $25,000 pledge, might withdraw.

UC50, the non-profit created to organize the events, expects to fall short of its fundraising goal of $500,000. In late March, the Council reluctantly declined UC50's request to waive $96,000 of fees associated with support from City staff, such as police, paramedics and Leisure Services, for the Parade & Car Show on May 16 and September's two-day 50th Anniversary Festival. The City faces budget cuts of 20%.

Undeterred, the UC50 Board made the difficult decision to scale back September's celebration to one day to save $75,000. It will be held on September 12 at the James Logan High School stadium and require less support from City staff. This releases funds for what promises to be a spectacular. Lasting from mid-to-late afternoon until 10.00pm, proceedings will start with a reception for sponsors and VIPs at the Ruggieri Senior Center. Between 5,000 and 10,000 are expected at the stadium. There will be food stalls and a stage-show with a headline performer who will not be named until nearer the time. Fireworks will round off the evening.

A 5K/10K Fun Run is planned for September 13. The rest of the year's events are unchanged.

UC50 Chair, Helen Kennedy, is philosophical and resolute.

"We're disappointed, but we're not quitting! The show will go on. Almost three years ago, even six months ago, no-one expected such a severe downturn. It's affected our business community and City government. We're all prioritizing expenditure. Though the Council's decision forces us to make some cutbacks, we understand the economic situation affects everyone.

"Our fundraising chair, Carol Dutra-Vernaci, and her team have done a fabulous job. Thankfully, 85% of our pledges have been received and we're confident the outstanding donations are solidly reliable. Two weeks ago, we received a $2,000 check from a new sponsor and a commitment for $1,500. We hope this is the start of a turnaround.

"Some very positive things are clear. First, to my knowledge, the $352,800 in pledges is the most ever raised in Union City's history. Our [UC50] team has done a great job and our businesses have shown tremendous generosity, especially our platinum sponsors Fremont Bank and Abaxis. We've received $297,400 to date. Second, our next three events are free. Union City residents and their families can participate in the City's birthday celebrations. Rather than spend hundreds of dollars to take the kids to an amusement park, they can enjoy themselves right here at home. We expect huge crowds. We can provide great, affordable, family entertainment for the community," she said.

UC50's original spending plans were both conservative, in case the fundraising target was unmet, and included the costs of City services. The finance team's responsibility has enabled the celebrations to continue, albeit with a revised budget. The economy's unexpected severity means donations have fallen short of the original $400,000 budget. "Staging the Festival at one venue reduces the police and fire support needed and creates a safety cushion in case our expenses increase," explained Kennedy.

Cancellation or changes to the other events were not possible because of timing and scale. There was insufficient lead time to change the May, June and July events; contracts and plans were already in place when the Council made its decision. Contracts for September's festival are under negotiation. "The Festival had three major components over two days, so it was possible to cut back some of them and still deliver an exciting event," said UC50's Chair.

"This is truly a grassroots effort. Planning started three years ago. About two hundred people participated in those early meetings. They included Mayor Green, Council members, representatives of organizations and community-minded residents who wanted to be involved.

"The community wanted to celebrate throughout the year. We extracted their ideas for events that our diverse community would enjoy. Our programs surfaced from these sessions. That's why we have a series of events instead of one large one.

"Additionally, we feel a strong sense of pride in the community. This is a great place to live and everyone wants to show that Union City is a can-do place. We're ready to celebrate!" rallied Kennedy.

More active community support and participation are needed to ensure the success of the celebratory events that residents and their families plan to attend.

For more information on the festivities and ways to help, visit www.UnionCity50.com. Commemorative items are available online, at Paddy's Coffee Shop (Smith St) and at UC50 events.

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