PATERSON, NJ - A public meeting Thursday night about possible redevelopment plans involving the Paterson train station ended up becoming a discussion of the city's downtown.
Several people at the meeting said a major obstacle to the revitalization efforts in Paterson was the lack of a vibrant nightlife scene in the downtown area.
"This is a ghost town!" said Luis Velez, a candidate for the 5th Ward City Council, pointing to the area on a map.
Fred Heyer, a consultant working on train station plans, said the presence of many government buildings that close at the end of the business day was both a blessing and a curse for Paterson.
"You have a captive audience during the day... But the night comes and you don't have that activity," he said.
Potential revitalization efforts discussed included construction of new apartments, potentially targeted towards young people including professionals and newlyweds.
Thursday's meeting was hosted by Heyer, Gruel, and Associates, the firm hired to create a long-term plan for future developments near Paterson's main railroad station. The session was designed to get public input and kick off the planning process.
Just under a dozen people turned out to Passaic County Community College, including newly-elected Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter.
Noting that transit-oriented development (TOD) has helped transform other urban communities, Fred Heyer said Paterson would likely find the best opportunities for redevelopment within a half-mile of its train station.
Heyer cited Harrison as an example of a community that found success with TOD, noting a new mixed-use residential development has exceeded the expected demand, and two new hotels are opening in the vicinity of the city's PATH train station.
Ekaterina Valiotis, of Alma Realty, said her 81-unit residential property at the corner of Market and Church Streets were doing well despite the economy, with over 80% occupancy. But she also said that her tenants desire more from the surrounding area.
"Their major complaint is that the lights go off at 6pm... What's missing is food uses, night activity, and just hustle and bustle," she said.
Other ideas put forth to the planners included fixing sidewalks and streetlights, installing way-finding signage, implementing uniform awnings for businesses on Market Street, and identifying a site near the train station to serve as a permanent taxi stand.
Another idea discussed during the informal session was a "restaurant row" with several dining establishments on the same block.
"There's a synergy with restaurants where they're better together," said Heyer, admitting it may seem counter to the conventional wisdom that the increased competition would hurt the restaurants overall.
Heyer and partner Susan Gruel brought with them maps identifying the "preliminary TOD boundary," the area their plan will cover. It is roughly bounded by Main Street, Broadway, Summer Street, and Railroad Avenue.