Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration unveiled its renovation plan for Hinchliffe Stadium which includes 80 apartments, a restaurant, 300-space parking deck, and gallery space for Negro league history.
Sayegh’s economic development director Michael Powell and developer, Baye Adofo-Wilson, pitched the $70 million restoration plan to the school board — owner of the Hinchliffe Stadium and an adjoining lot that contains the Elysian vegetable garden — on Wednesday night.
“We have an unique moment now to create a landmark partnership,” said Powell to the board. He needs the district to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the city to allow developers to obtain financing for the project.
Powell said $40 million in state tax credit will be used to “resurrect” the stadium that has been decaying for more than two decades. Under the plan, the parking deck and the apartments will be built on the site of the community garden behind School 5 while the restaurant and the gallery will be built on the corner of the stadium that’s closest to Mary Ellen Kramer Park.
Sayegh’s administration is scrambling to get the buy-in of the school board and the city council to submit an application to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to use the tax credits by the Jun. 30, 2019 deadline.
“The window on this is very tight,” said the economic development director. Powell’s pitch received mixed reactions from school board members.
“I do like the idea. It’s about time. I want to see a stadium our students can utilize,” said school board president Oshin Castillo.
“I don’t see another opportunity coming our way anytime soon,” said board member Manny Martinez. “This is an opportunity for us to capitalize on.”
Martinez called it a “golden opportunity.”
Some school board members had concerns.
“This plan seems to me like it’s going to involve us turning over ownership,” said board member Joel Ramirez.
“We’re not asking to own it,” answered Adofo-Wilson. He said the lease will have to cover the life of the tax credit which is 30 years.
Who gets the rent revenues from the apartments? asked Ramirez.
“That’s how you build a stadium,” replied Powell.
The field at the stadium will be artificial turf. It will only properly accommodate football and soccer.
“I’m concerned about the track. It can’t attract state leagues or county leagues,” said board member Kenneth Simmons.
The stadium’s track is not regulation size, said architect George Hibbs. He said adding a regulation size track would require expanding the stadium which would cost another $5 to $8 million.
The stadium is too small for baseball, said Hibbs.
“Not having baseball support is really bad,” said board member Emanuel Capers. He said it’s a disservice to the legacy of Larry Doby.
Hinchliffe Stadium is one of few sites in the U.S. where the legendary Negro League held games. It was added to the Great Falls National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress for its historical significance.
“You have to actually move the stadium to get baseball,” said Adofo-Wilson.
The stadium has 7,800 seats. Board member Jonathan Hodges worried about parking. Powell said there will be a second parking deck, 300 spaces, on McBride Avenue.
Hodges also asked about maintenance program for the upkeep of the stadium. Adofo-Wilson said a third-party manager will run the stadium. He said funds will be seat aside for upkeep for a 10-year period.
Capers said the apartments will cause overcrowding in schools in the area. He also worried about traffic congestion. Indeed, there are daily traffic jams on Wayne Avenue, Totowa Avenue, and Maple Street.
Adofo-Wilson, who previously served as deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development in Newark, said price tag to restore Hinchliffe Stadium is roughly $26 million. He is working on the project with L&M Development Partners.
Schools will be given priority to use the stadium, said the developer.
Construction on the project would begin next year and finish in 2022, said Adofo-Wilson.