NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Newark, New Jersey, became the music capital of the world Monday night as the city played host to the MTV Video Music Awards.
The biggest entertainers in the world walked the red carpet at the Prudential Center before taking the stage, but protesters also staged their own show outside as they demanded action on the city’s water crisis.
About 15,000 people packed the Prudential Center for the awards, CBS2’s Ali Bauman reports.
Lining the streets around the venue were 3,000 music fans, trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrities on the red carpet.
It was the first time the awards were held in Newark in the show’s 35-year history.
Three childhood friends wanted to nab a prime viewing spot and arrived at 10 a.m.
“When you come late, usually everybody is here already. So you’re all the way in the back. If you see, no one’s here right now, so we’re in the front,” said Sharieff Clark.
“It’s monumental, actually. Like, Newark has never had anything this big. It’s exciting,” Newark resident Ibn Hilton said.
“Maybe it’ll, you know, bring some excitement to the city that’s having a lot of issues going on right now,” one man said.
“A lot of people don’t like coming here,” Newark resident Alisha Williams said. “It’ll make people more comfortable and see that good things does happen in Newark.”
Thousands more filled the surrounding streets to catch the outdoor performances. Some got a sneak peek Monday afternoon.
This was only possible with increased police presence. Surrounding streets were shut down, causing traffic slowdowns. Spectators along the barricaded perimeter had to go through security. Some businesses took the city’s advice and were closed or gave employees a shortened day.
“They decided to let us out early,” said Newark resident Ruby Graham. “With all the blocks and everything, it’s not even going to be easy to get around on foot.”
Regardless of the hassle, many Newark residents are thrilled to have the VMAs there.
“This shows that Newark is so much more than just guns and violence and the lead water, things of that nature. It’s a lot of positivity over here,” said Ziyyon Smith.
“I mean, it’s a disruption for the people who work here, but we love to see all the excitement,” said Gail Raffield.
PROTESTERS BRING ATTENTION TO WATER CRISIS
Not everyone was celebrating, however. Mounted police held back protesters throughout the red carpet arrivals. Fed-up residents held signs that read “CLEAN WATER FOR NEWARK.”
“However many thousands of people that you’re expecting here, OK, at the end of the day, the people in this city are suffering,” Newark resident Munirah Elboani said.
Hours earlier, Gov. Phil Murphy and Mayor Ras Baraka announced Newark will take out a $120 million loan to replace the city’s lead pipelines that have contaminated its tap water.
NEWARK WATER EMERGENCY: New Plan Revealed To Fast-Track Process Of Replacing Lead Pipes
“It’s not about us being upset that the VMAs are here. They are more than welcome to be here. It is just the fact when you have your city officials making sure that something like the MTV awards is taken well care of and very well policed, yet our water is not taken care of, that’s a big problem. That’s like a slap in the face to the city,” protester Danielle McKenzie said.
Reverend Al Sharpton came to support the musicians, but he said he hopes protesters bring national attention to Newark.
“It’s good because it brings a limelight to a city where not everybody has to say, oh, I didn’t know there was lead in that city. So there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud, but that’s no comfort to those that’s living in the middle of that dark cloud,” Sharpton said.
There were already 300 police officer at the Prudential Center for crowd control before the protests even started. City officials said there were five arrests outside the venue, but the traffic and crowds were manageable and overall, they consider the night a success.
COMMUTERS TAKE NOTE
The event did have an affect on those living, working and driving near the venue.
“We are treating this like a blizzard. We’re preparing – if the weather forecaster is telling us there is six inches of snow, we’re preparing for 26 inches of snow,” Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said last week.
The public safety director said the city is no stranger to big events.
“We’ve had the pope, we’ve had the president, we’ve had the Dalai Lama,” he told reporters.
Watch: Newark Public Safety Director Outlines MTV VMA Street Closures
Some local businesses were hoping to cash in on the crowds.
“This will definitely increase our revenue for our businesses here, which is definitely well needed,” said Edwin Rosario, of Lola Empanadas.
Meanwhile, officials warned residents of street closures all day and rush-hour gridlock at night, even asking employees and drivers in the area to work around it.
“Our corporations and businesses – we’ve asked them to either work from home, stagger their hours,” Ambrose said.
That wasn’t an option for those working at Nick’s Drugs, which delivers prescriptions to customers all over the city.
“Nowhere to park, nowhere to drive, nowhere to move. We’re stuck,” said employee Angie Diaz.
New Jersey Transit gave a heads up on social media that customers could experience large crowds at PSNY, Secaucus Junction and Newark Penn Station, and buses may be subject to delays and detours.
Today, August 26, NJT rail customers may experience large crowds at PSNY, Secaucus Junction and Newark Penn Station due to the Video Music Awards in Newark. Please plan accordingly and build in extra time in your travels.
— NJ TRANSIT (@NJTRANSIT) August 26, 2019
Street closures started as early as 8:30 a.m., with Mulberry Street closing from Lafayette to Market streets.
Monday, August 26th, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Mulberry Street, from Lafayette Street to Market Street
- Franklin Street
Monday, August 26th, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. (Extended Street Closure)
- Mulberry Street, from Raymond Boulevard and Green Street
Monday, August 26th, from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Market Street between Washington Street and McCarter Highway
- Edison Place between Broad Street and McCarter Highway
Monday, August 26th, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
- Bus lane and northbound lane of traffic on Broad Street, from Green Street to Market Street
Monday, August 26th, from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Westbound lane of traffic on Lafayette Street, from McCarter Highway to Broad Street
VMAs TO BOOST NEWARK ECONOMY
The VMAs are one of the most talked-about events on social media every year, and will feature performances by Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Sean Mendez, Missy Elliott and many more.
Sean Saadeh, the executive vice president of entertainment for the Prudential Center, stopped by CBSN New York to discuss the event.
“It’s always been on the forefront and cutting edge for the music industry. This awards show, there’s always something potentially that could happen, and I think people tune in to that,” said Saadeh.
The crowds also are expected to be a boon for Newark’s economy.
“It’s restaurants. The businesses that surround the area that are going to get the impact. The hotels. We employ almost 1,500 people just for this event. We normally do between 800-1,000 for a normal concert or a Devil’s game. So it’s really going to have that short-term jolt to the economy, and it’s also going to put the world stage, which we’re really excited about,” Saadeh said.