In an effort to demonstrate to outside investors it is serious about restoring the historic Hinchliffe Stadium, the city council on Tuesday night approved an almost $1.5 million contract to rehabilitate the front of the ballfield.
Under the contract, the main façade of the building on Liberty Street side will be restored. Work includes exterior concrete wall restoration, repairs to façade, restoration of terracotta title roofing of all four ticket booths, repairs of decorative tile and elements, and restoration of four cast concrete Hinchliffe Stadium signs, according to city records.
“Every great project has its first day and tonight feels like it will be the first day for Hinchliffe Stadium’s rehabilitation,” said Brian LoPinto, president of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, urging the council to move ahead with the first phase of rehabilitation.
Council members voted 8-1 to approve the $1.48 million contract with Mount Laurel-based Wu & Associates. A total of three companies vied for the work. The Mount Laurel firm was the “lowest responsible bidder” for the project, according to the city.
“I want to see Hinchliffe Stadium running. We need this; we’re in dire in need. I’d like my child to see Hinchliffe Stadium be what it used to be when I was young,” said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large.
“This is an iconic structure that needs to be preserved,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Some council members expressed frustration at the slow progress in fully restoring the stadium, one of the few remaining places where the legendary Negro League held baseball games. Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, complained the city has spent more than $2 million in studies and plans. He has yet to see a “shovel in the ground,” he said, to fully restore the stadium that closed in 1997.
Jackson was the sole vote against the contract. He said the repairs are too costly and expressed skepticism at the prospect of attracting outside investors to assist in restoring what has been described as a national treasure.
Gianfranco Archimedes, director of the Paterson Historic Preservation Commission, explained the expenses so far incurred. He explained the funds were expended to conduct needed planning, site investigation, and market studies.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, asked for the next step after this is completed. “What’s the realistic idea? $35 million. We don’t have the capacity to bond for that,” he said. Archimedes said the price tag for full restoration stands at $35 million.
Archimedes said the plan is to secure $3 for every $1 public dollar. Economic development director Ruben Gomez said the city is seeking out third party partners to invest in the rehabilitation of Hinchliffe Stadium.
The phase one contract is being paid through $800,000 in grants and $685,425 in municipal dollars. The city received $500,000 from the New Jersey Historic Trust and another $300,000 from the American Express Foundation through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grants were secured with assistance from LoPinto’s group.
“There’s no guarantee the rest of the money will follow,” said Jackson. Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, who has sounded the alarm at the administration’s appetite to borrow money to pay for projects, said he wishes the city had the capacity to borrow funds for projects such as this one.
Morris said the city will find itself in a “conundrum” if the stadium does not attract investors. The city will have spent millions and will likely have to pay for the rest of the restoration expenses to protect the initial investment.
Advocates have said the exterior work being completed as part of this contract is a demonstration project to attract investors to restore the stadium which has been closed for 20 years.
The stadium opened in 1932 and closed due to sinking and destabilization of the field in 1997. It is one of the few remaining stadiums where the legendary Negro League held baseball games. It hosted both the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans. It provided a home for the segregated Negro League baseball teams. It produced National Baseball Hall of Fame stars like Larry Doby, Josh Gibson, William Julius “Judy” Johnson, Oscar Charleston, and Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
The stadium was made part of the Great Falls National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress in December 2014.
“It’s a jewel property. It’s a property we want to see revived,” said business administrator Nellie Pou.