As cities across the country clear their downtowns of mall structures that swallow large amounts of space, the city’s new redevelopment plan for downtown Paterson calls for the expansion of the struggling Center City Mall.
The expansion which is estimated to cost $100 million will include a soccer arena on a parking lot owned by the Paterson Parking Authority. The expansion will also allow for art galleries, microbreweries, medical spas, offices, retail shops, hotel, medical marijuana treatment center, and hydroponic farming, according to the redevelopment plan presented to council members on Tuesday night.
Economic development director Ruben Gomez said the project will create 200 permanent jobs in the city. The Center City Mall expansion is in its early stages. The city is in the process of adopting a redevelopment plan for the pentagon shaped area bounded by Main, Market, Clark, Ward Streets.
The mall is owned by New York developer Efstathios Valiotis. The daily operations for the Center City is handled by his daughter Ekaterina Valiotis. When Gomez was asked how soon the redevelopment in the downtown area could be brought to fruition by councilman Luis Velez, the economic director suggested it could happen in months, but Valiotis from the audience appeared to indicate otherwise.
Valiotis did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday morning.
The redevelopment plan for the Center City area was created by Red Bank-based Heyer, Gruel and Associates. John Barree, senior planner for the firm, presented the plan to the council with Gomez.
When asked why his firm is calling for the expansion of a mall in downtown Paterson at a time when reinvigorating cities all over the United States are tearing down malls to make way for mixed use developments, Barree answered, “No comment.”
City planners have begun to realize malls are a poor fit for downtowns. Cities that have teared down malls to open up space for other businesses include Green Bay, Wis., Columbus, Ohio; Rochester, NY; Palm Springs, Calif., Muskegon, Mich.
Malls that once thrived in suburban areas are also failing due to the growth of online retail.
Gomez defended the plan by asserting the malls being torn down are old. He said Center City which opened in 2009 is still new. The 2004 plan for the mall envisioned the mall as an anchor to attract businesses and people to Paterson. “The mall has partially fulfilled the vision described in the 2004 plan,” reads the city’s redevelopment plan presentation. “In the years since the Mall has opened, the transformation envisioned by the plan has not come to fruition.”
The mall suffers from high vacancy and dearth of shoppers. The proposed arena will be connected from the existing mall.
The downtown plan also includes the redevelopment of the old parking deck on Ward Street and Memorial Drive. Tony Perez, director of the authority, has presented renderings of a future plan for the Ward Street garage in February.
Barree said the future Ward Street development and the Center City Mall will be tied into the Ward Street train station. He said as part of the expansion some streets in downtown will have to be vacated. The plan also presents a scenario where streets are reconfigured and Memorial Drive is closed by the Ward Street area.
The proposed arena in the heart of the busy downtown area will likely create further traffic congestion. The plan does not address the traffic problems that could result from the expansion project.
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, suggested finding ways to attract people to the downtown area. He suggested building market rate housing to attract affluent public transit users to the area around the train station. Market rate housing will attract people with $70,000 to $80,000 in yearly income, he said.
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