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City Officials Debate Whether to Make Hinchliffe Stadium a Local Landmark

 

PATERSON, NJ – Hinchliffe Stadium may be a few months away from being designated a national landmark, but the ballpark still has not made the city’s list of historic sites.

“How embarrassing is that?” asked City Council President Anthony Davis.

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Under Davis’ direction, the city council is considering an ordinance that would add Hinchliffe - one of three stadiums still standing that were used during the old Negro baseball leagues – to Paterson’s list of historic locations.

But the effort has run up against the same questions and concerns that resulted in city officials’ decision three years ago not to include Hinchliffe in Paterson’s historic preservation program. The school district, which owns the stadium, does not want the historic designation to complicate its attempts to repair the crumbling landmark. In particular, school officials are worried the designation may limit what can be done at the stadium and may drive up the cost of repairs because of historic authenticity requirements.

“We don’t want our hands tied,’’ school board member Jonathan Hodges told the city council Tuesday night.

“I don’t see the problems that they foresee with this landmark designation,’’ the vice chairman of the city’s historic preservation commission, Kenneth Simpson, said at that same council meeting.

The council opted to delay action on the Hinchliffe landmark ordinance until after it holds a joint meeting on the issue with the Board of Education.

On Wednesday night, the school board held its own discussion on the landmark status, a session during which education officials expressed frustration with the conflicting statement s they had heard from different people at different times about the impact of the various levels of historic designation.

“Everybody is talking and there’s different variations,’’ said school board president Christopher Irving.

Irving asked the school district’s attorney,, Lisa Pollak, to research the ramifications of the various historic designations and to provide the board with a legal opinion.

It’s quite possible Hinchliffe will get the national landmark status before the question of the local designation is resolved. A federal advisory committee last month unanimously recommended that Hinchliffe be added to the national list and advocates of the designation say it may take just a couple more months before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signs off on it.

The federal designation is being pushed by members of the city’s preservation commission along with two private nonprofit groups, the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The supporters say the national designation would elevate Hinchliffe’s stature and greatly improve its chances of getting the funding needed to reopen for public use.

Built during The Depression, Hinchliffe hosted boxing, auto racing and local sports events in addition to being the home ballpark of the New York Black Yankees in the Negro Leagues. Disrepair forced officials to shut Hinchliffe down more than 15 years ago and since then its decline has worsened.

Officials estimate it will cost more than $15 million to renovate the stadium, especially its crumbling walls and grandstands. Some advocates are hoping that Hinchliffe can reopen on a limited basis with a low-cost restoration of the playing field, which they say would allow local sporting events to take place there with fans simply standing or sitting along the sidelines.

The city council recently approved the use of $1 million for some initial stabilization work on the stadium and field.

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