The plan for a swanky $19.7 million visitors’ center at the former steam plant foundation site on the lower level of the Overlook Park section of the Great Falls was unveiled to the federal advisory commission of the national park on Thursday afternoon.
The 7,500 square feet, multi-level visitors’ center, will highlight Paterson’s role in American history. Leonard Zax, executive director of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson and a member of the commission, who unveiled the plan to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Advisory Commission, said the center will contain a terrace, mezzanine, and main gallery.
Zax said the main gallery will feature interactive exhibits showcasing the glorious history of Paterson. It will include exhibitions focusing on Paterson’s role in the industrial revolution, immigration, and the labor movement.
There will also be an exhibit showcasing the history of Hinchliffe Stadium and the legendary Negro league which utilized the stadium to host baseball games at a time when African-Americans were barred from playing in major league baseball.
The center is needed to tell the lengthy and illustrious history of the falls, said commission members, who applauded the Zax’s presentation.
“You’ve got to tell that story,” said commission member James Pepper.
“This is a critical early project for the park,” said Susan Cole, president of Montclair State University, who serves on the commission. She said the visitors’ center should be prioritized in the early phase of development at the park.
The funding to construct the visitors’ center called the Alexander Hamilton Center will have to come from a mix of public and private sector sources, said Zax. The artistic renderings and designs for the center was done by renowned New York City-based Ralph Appelbaum Associates and paid with donors’ funds.
The firm specializes in museum exhibitions, visitor centers, and educational environments. It has worked on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
“The architecture fits in with the industrial aspects of the historic district,” said Theodore “TJ” Best, commission member and Passaic County freeholder. He said the design aligns with the county’s plan for the Overlook Park.
The Hamilton Partnership for Paterson originally unveiled the plan to 150 people at the William Paterson University Commons fundraiser for the park in early June. Best and other members said at present visitors drive to Overlook Park, look at the water fall, snap a few pictures, and drive out.
The visitors’ center will allow those people to linger and potentially patronize businesses within the Great Falls Historic District.
The proposed visitors’ center sits at the site identified in the park’s recently completed 20-year general management plan for a larger center to what exists in the corner of McBride Avenue extension and Spruce Street.
“It would be a draw not just for the city, but the region,” said Zax.