The city council approved a 30-year agreement with Hackensack-based Cedar Stars Academy during a special meeting on Tuesday evening in return for a $2 million renovation project at two Pennington Park fields.
Cedar Stars Academy will spend $2 million to develop the two back fields at Pennington Park for its soccer program. It will also provide $1.5 to $3 million in scholarships to city children who qualify for free or reduced lunch in the duration of the agreement.
300 children will be enrolled into the club’s program free of charge, according to the agreement.
The agreement states the club will also refurbish the fields twice during the duration of the agreement after the initial construction of the artificial turf soccer fields. Overall the agreement is worth $5 to $7 million, according to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ office.
The agreement has the blessings of the city’s popular coach and recreation coordinator Benjie Wimberly and soccer coach Alfredo Serrano. However, those endorsements were not sufficient to prevent protest against the agreement last night.
“This is Paterson’s park. Let’s not sell out,” said Eddie Gonzalez, former 2nd Ward candidate, who opposed the agreement. The agreement gives the club priority scheduling which will reduce the hours the two back fields will be available for public use.
The club will have usage rights year around from Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. It will have year round priority usage rights on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the agreement.
In June and August the club will have priority access to the two fields Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to the agreement.
Gonzalez, accompanied by more than a dozen young people, said the agreement disadvantages the city’s young people. He proposed an alternative plan to renovate the two fields through Passaic County grant funds.
“We’re going to do this to our kids when they have no place to go?” remarked city resident Donald Lynch. “I don’t think we should go for that.”
The sole speaker to support the agreement was coach Serrano. He said the fields are in disarray and in bad need of renovation. He also pointed to the scholarships that will benefit the students.
Serrano is one coach who provides recreation soccer to hundreds of young people. He also mentioned the vandalism that occurs in the field which will be stopped because the agreement calls for a fence and better security at the park. He pointed to a time when a group burned the fields soon after it was re-done.
“Those fields do not get played on at all,” retorted an incensed Torres, a steadfast supporter of the agreement. In fact, the club will be utilizing the two backfields that are hardly ever used, according to officials.
“I think this is a good deal. Half a loaf is better than no loaf,” said the mayor. The city has no loaf at present with two fields described as little more than dust bowls.
“This is the right move. This is what’s happening around the country,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman. “We’re not setting up Paterson. We’re making Paterson better.”
Tavarez, who seldom agrees with the mayor, concurred with Torres last night.
“Is it a perfect deal? It’s not. This is the best deal we’re going to get,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Council president William McKoy said the agreement is too long. Councilmen Michael Jackson and Kenneth Morris also expressed the same sentiment.
Morris wanted the agreement to be restructured as a 15 year accord with five year renewals thereafter. His suggestion was not taken on board. He said the fields need to be renovated, but disliked the length of the agreement.
“Paterson needs something to be known by,” said Morris. He said if the scholarships produce one exceptional Paterson soccer player who makes it big the agreement will be well worth it.
Morris said he “begrudgingly” voted in favor of the agreement. Council members Maritza Davila, Alex Mendez, Sayegh, and Tavarez voted to pass the agreement while McKoy abstained and Jackson voted against.