In response to the recent article, “At Mall of Big Dream, Few Shoppers,” by Alice Hines, I can only wonder how one can compare a Downtown Shopping Center in Paterson to the luxurious Mall at Short Hills, Marshalls to Neiman Marcus, and a “Mall of Big Dreams” to failed urban renewal projects.
History of Paterson
The Great Falls of the Passaic River is a prominent waterfall, 77 feet high and the building block of Alexander Hamilton’s Paterson, America’s first industrial city, the home of the first water-powered cotton spinning mill (1793), the first continuous roll paper (1812), the Colt Revolver (1836), the Rogers Locomotive Works which helped fuel western expansion through the transcontinental railroad (1837), and the Holland Submarine — making underwater navigation possible (1878).1 In 1932, Paterson opened Hinchliffe Stadium, a 10,000-seat stadium which was the home of the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. Hinchliffe is one of only three Negro League stadiums left standing in the United States.
A look at today’s Paterson, indeed shows a different picture, one of post-industrial urban decay suffered by many cities similarly situated. What is not shown in this article is the ongoing progress and increasing potential achieved in the past 10 years.
Modern Day Paterson
The Great Falls was designated a National Historic Park in 2009 and was acquired by the National Park System in 2011, full steam ahead to become an organized, self-sustaining, natural landmark and tourist destination. For 2011-2012, U.S. News & World Report has selected St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center as one of the “Best Hospitals in the New York Metropolitan Area,” for four high-performing specialties: cancer, kidney disorders, pulmonology, and urology.2 Renowned in the medical field with awards and recognition for its premier medical services and outstanding professionals is the largest employer in this city and is in the midst of a phenomenal expansion other hospitals can only dream of, can easily be crowned Paterson’s royal gem.
Paterson’s Downtown Historic District has been blessed with revitalization through the sole private capital investment of Efstathios “Steve” Valiotis.
Awarded the bid in 2003, Steve and his partner embarked on reviving Silk City to its former glory, starting with a flat parking lot that was replaced with two levels of indoor parking and a three-story retail structure. Center City’s 4-phase project began in 2005 and has seen the first 2 phases to fruition without a taxpayer dime and regretfully without the blessings of a healthy economy. Center City is unique in that it features retail, services, and entertainment, and therefore cannot be considered a typical mall. Structurally, the building is designed with street access on all 4 sides of the block, endless frontage of glass, and brick work in earth tones to emulate the Historic District’s look and feel, making it a part of the scenery and a non-obtrusive structure, aesthetically pleasing for a seamless integration with the Paterson’s surrounding architectural richness.
Valiotis’s vision was one of great foresight, having over 20 years of experience in urban markets in the tri-state area and a guru of sorts in demand and supply economics, all the ingredients are present for what is developing to be the New Downtown Paterson, “where it all comes together”.
Research shows, that neighboring towns such as Clifton, Wayne, Paramus, and Saddle Brook enjoy the benefit of Paterson’s unmet expenditure potential approximated at $100 million, leaving Center City’s trade area as estimated by Economic Research Associates’ forecast for 2009.3 With a population of over 180,000 residents, home of the Passaic County Court System with over 200,000 visitors yearly, immediate access to Route 80 & 19 and only 13 minutes from the George Washington Bridge accompanied by an NJT station steps from Center City, Paterson is well-equipped to become the perfect example of America’s new commuter cities, providing residents easy access to surrounding major cities, such as New York City, Jersey City, Newark and Philadelphia without the hassle of driving and the increased costs of the suburban lifestyle which Americans are increasingly unable to afford.
Center City’s remaining phases include a parking structure, residential, office and additional retail on the lots on Smith Street. Center City can be considered the storefront of Valiotis’s Paterson holdings, as his Long Island City, NY based company, Alma Realty Corp, has invested much more in this city, bringing the total to over 3 million square feet of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. With market-rate apartments on Market Street and Straight Street, and soon coming to Beech Street, occupancy is close to 85%, only reinforcing the demand for re-urbanization and the revival of Paterson.
Valiotis recently announced the redevelopment of the former Fabian Theater into a hotel with 100+ rooms, all situated downtown. The local wealth of history, culture, architecture and the art scene can be seen flourishing in places such as the Center City Galleries. What concerns me is Alice Hines’ bleak view and quick judgment of a city with so much character and potential, like a bully who fears that which he/she does not understand.
At the ripe age of 22, with the luxuries of private education and an Ivy League college degree accompanied by a non-urban childhood, it pains me to see such negativity and closed-mindedness to the importance of urban renewal, the unfortunate reality of social inequality and the importance of “teaching a free art class.” I too have been blessed with the opportunity of private education and the fruits of my father’s life-long hard work, but I do not see what Ms. Hines sees. Appreciation of the luxuries I have been afforded come hand in hand with the duty to understand the importance of giving back, in terms of everyone’s right to a community with the opportunity to live, work and play.
While Hines may only see the value of Short Hills, there is an increased need for places like Center City, where people of all economic and social status levels have a place to enjoy fashion, food, and fun, where jobs are available for low to moderate skilled employees, where art is available at times when the public school system cannot provide it, where families can spend the day without the pressure of buying, where community is promoted and retail is supported, where a demand exists and private investment accepts the challenge to supply it.
Center City is the beginning of something far greater than what Ms. Hines can imagine, it is the beginning of self-sustainability, job creation which the government can no longer provide, a municipal tax base upward of $2.2 million that Paterson’s budget cannot do without, and over $50 million annually in sales tax receipts that would otherwise leave Paterson for the benefit of other communities. Conveniently omitted from Hines’s article, Center City’s success continues to be reaffirmed with new tenancy, such as the 10,000 square foot Colosseum Health & Fitness Center, a local small business expanding to a 3rd location slated to open in a few weeks, and TD Bank scheduled for early Spring 2012, a perfect example of the powerful combination of small businesses and national retailers coming together to provide the goods and services needed by urban communities.
I could go on for pages about all the wonderful things about Paterson’s history, potential, community-based activism, private-public partnership success, and most valued, a diverse community and the epitome of the American melting-pot of over 52 nationalities, but it will not make a difference to those like Ms. Alice Hines, that only see a homeless man in a massage chair, and a “mall” with few shoppers.
Ekaterina (Kat) Valiotis
Director of Property ManagementAlma Realty Corp
1) Copyright 2008 New Jersey Community Development Corporation.
2) Copyright 2011 U.S.News & World Report.
3) Source: Claritas, Inc.; Economics Research Associates