It’s encouraging to see a lot of talk in the papers about economic redevelopment in the City of Paterson. With that being said, however, the Center City Mall project has not been the type of development that has been lauded for its success in revitalizing Main Street. While we must applaud Center City’s developers for thinking outside the box in order to breathe life into a project launched in an era where malls are closing all over the country, it is nonetheless just as vital that the City of Paterson commit to projects that are well thought-out and compliment other redevelopment initiatives. While I have no doubt that Center City Mall can be both profitable to its owners and a boon to downtown Paterson under the right leadership, it is troubling that there does not appear to be any comprehensive plan for how to make this happen.
While it is true that a lot of downtown Paterson’s redevelopment is in the hands of private persons, the City continues to provide conflicting views on a plan to move forward, which creates a chicken-or-egg scenario in terms of meaningful redevelopment. Less than twenty-four hours after announcing that the first phase of the Hinchliffe Stadium restoration will soon be awarded, we are told of another proposal to place a stadium of similar size smack in the middle of downtown Paterson.
It is no secret that this writer has and will continue to advocate for restoration of Hinchliffe Stadium. Hinchliffe is a National Historic Landmark and is perhaps as big a part of the historic fabric of Paterson than any other remaining structure. The residents of Paterson have voted to restore Hinchliffe, and the recent news that it is finally coming to pass has been met with celebration. There is plenty of reason to believe that the Hinchliffe restoration will prevail in City Government, however, the mixed signals sent by the new stadium proposal suggests to the outside world (as well as Patersonians) that we do not have a plan, we do not know where we are going, and that we probably do not have the means to get us there.
It goes without saying that two stadiums less than a mile from each other would be in direct competition, meaning that the City of Paterson has put two bold and ambitious plans on the table in a day that detract from rather than complement one another. The downtown area cannot possibly accommodate stadium traffic in its current configuration, but the point cannot be lost that it also threatens the Hinchliffe Stadium restoration and by association, Mayor Torres’ proposed gateway to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in the area of West Broadway. Even if the money could be found to build both, two stadiums in a city that could not previously support one would ultimately lead to one or both of them failing. With city finances being what they are, we cannot afford to get sidetracked with conflicting proposals that will leave us rowing in circles.
Center City Mall will never be successful under the tried and (no longer) true model of mall development and it is in fact commendable that mall ownership is not trying to hide that. Center City could never compete with Garden State Plaza or any of the local malls which are at least double its size, particularly when these malls (with an abundance of highway access) are beginning to suffer under the strains of different consumer patterns. It is therefore essential that the mall’s developers focus on making Center City live up to its namesake, where it can truly be the heart of the downtown area.
Downtown Paterson could always do with more parking, and this perhaps has been the extent of Center City’s successes to this point. Redevelopment of the “back lots” into public garages would make the mall a more attractive option for retailers, while building a stadium or more retail space would only serve to obstruct the flow of commerce from Center City to downtown Paterson without guarantee of additional business. The existing parking garage, which presently serves both the Passaic County Complex at Hamilton Plaza as well as the Main and Market Street area, would be cut off by a large building that would force pedestrians to go around a long block to reach the downtown businesses. In most scenarios this will only result in a bigger mall that is still failing and that contributes nothing to the downtown area.
A far better option would be to use the present mall structure to make downtown Paterson more pedestrian and shopper friendly. Focusing on parking rather than retail space would allow the city to eliminate the parallel parking spaces that contribute to congestion issues on the major downtown roads. In the future, this could be expanded further by converting the Main and Market Street intersection into a pedestrian-only zone, lined with restaurants and shops by diverting traffic in a circular pattern around the downtown grid onto Memorial Drive. While significant traffic studies would have to be conducted to see if this is even possible, it goes without saying that this would have a lesser impact on traffic than having seven to ten thousand people swamp the downtown area on event nights.
This might require the mall to take on more of a community or convention center type role, but this does not wipe out the possibility of mall-like retail and would also create a prime location for hosting special events. This would play into the developer’s proposal to dedicate more space to restaurants and craft breweries, creating an attractive space for successful mall tenants while preserving an opportunity for the surrounding area to flourish. Some of the existing space could also be utilized to provide much needed performance space that is presently absent from downtown. There are plenty of opinions around town as to why Center City is not doing as well as people might have hoped, and exploring public opinion would probably go a long way in bringing Patersonians and their neighbors back to the downtown area.
At a time when name brands are beginning to feel the pushback from their own overzealous marketing, it is essential that Paterson place its future in the hands of the small businesses that have sustained it through some of its hardest times. The big department stores are not likely to return, but that does not mean Paterson cannot move ahead by providing a more genuine and intimate downtown experience that many Americans are beginning to appreciate once again. It is therefore essential that the city government work with developers on solutions that support the downtown and the city as a whole, while avoiding those that simply generate tax revenue without planning for the future. Anyone can build shiny new retail space and condominiums; Paterson is better served by utilizing what most towns cannot offer, a historic downtown with character.
Downtown Paterson resident