BELMONT — Christmas has been saved on Arthur Avenue, thanks to the local city councilman.
After DNAinfo New York first reported that the annual tree lighting in Vincent Ciccarone Playground was canceled because the Belmont Business Improvement District had to use the money to hire a security guard to chase off aggressive panhandlers, City Councilman Ritchie Torres stepped in to pay for the holiday celebration with Council district funds.
“I’m proud to announce that a beloved Christmas tradition is coming back to Arthur Ave. in The Bronx," Councilman Torres announced in a press release late Tuesday night. "Maintaining safe communities should not mean having to cancel a tradition that brings together hundreds of Bronx families. I will continue to work in close partnership with the Belmont BID to ensure the tree-lighting ceremony occurs every year for as long as I represent the district.”
The Christmas tree celebration, which is scheduled for Dec. 12 at 3 p.m., will also feature entertainment and hot drinks for the public.
The surprise announcement came on the heels of a flurry of media attention around the Belmont BID’s decision to hire a neighborhood security guard in lieu of hosting the celebration.
The security guard was hired in July for $65,000 a year — money that had been earmarked to purchase the 30-foot tree and pay for music and entertainment — because the popular strip of Italian restaurants and businesses had been beset by "problems with vagrants," Belmont BID Treasurer Frank Franz told DNAinfo at the time.
After Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has come under considerable criticism — most recently from Gov. Andrew Cuomo — about his handling of the city's homeless problem, denied that there was a homeless issue and blamed the cancelation on three aggressive panhandlers, BID Director Phil Marino reversed his earlier statements.
"We really don't have a homeless problem on Arthur Avenue," Marino said Tuesday. "It was just aggressive panhandlers and the PD did a fantastic job and it's really made a difference in the neighborhood."
Marino added that since Saturday, the BID had worked closely with the councilman’s office to bring the tree lighting to fruition.
“He supported what we did with hiring the security, and now with his support we will have the Christmas ceremony, so it is all good,” Marino said, calling Torres an "excellent councilman."