PATERSON, NJ - An otherwise dreary morning brightened considerably as the New Jersey Community Development Corporation held their annual Great Falls Neighborhood Summit on Saturday.
The event, which welcomed more than 50 residents from the area, including several students, would highlight, Bob Guarasci, NJCDC’s Founder said, “the exciting things happening in Paterson and in this neighborhood.”
The Great Falls Promise Neighborhood, Guarasci explained, encompasses approximately 90 blocks and is home to about 14,000 city residents.
“Today is your chance to hear what’s happening and ask questions,” Eddie Gonzalez, NJCDC’s director of community outreach said. “We are making sure that residents aren’t only aware but also involved.”
Kicking off an agenda that would present attendees with information on five pending projects was Passaic County Freeholder Director John Bartlett who spoke about the replacement of the Spruce Street Bridge that carries vehicles and pedestrian over the Passaic River only yards from where it cascades down 77 feet at the Great Falls.
The bridge, he said, is past its useful life and will be replaced with one that will not only expand the sidewalks to make it more pedestrian friendly, but also be designed to give it a 1930s feel, better matching the historic aesthetic of the Great Falls National Park it will help carry increasing numbers of visitors to in the coming years.
Extending further down McBride Avenue towards Paterson’s Downtown, Bartlett, continued, County officials are working on a streetscape project that will also expand sidewalks to Market Street and add trees and lighting.
While the streetscape project is in the early stages construction on the bridge project is expected to begin in 2020.
Following a brief address during which Mayor Andre Sayegh shared his optimism that the Great Falls would serve as a “focal point of Paterson’s renaissance,” Mike Powell, the city’s director of economic development, presented plans for the $70 million restoration of the historic Hinchliffe Stadium, as well as the construction of 70-80 residential units and a 300-spot parking garage.
“We are doing our best to create a destination where people can come to Paterson and enjoy art, culture, and food,” David Garsia, founder of the Paterson Art Factory said of his project which is converting 22 buildings on five acres of land into a variety of studio space. In addition to its prime location for movie and music production, and status as a venue of choice for wedding planners, the transformed space recently brought pop-up shopping to Paterson and also has plans to grow a free trolley service to transport visitors throughout the area.
A project that Sayegh has previously said will make sure that the Great Falls “continues to develop into the high-value natural resource that residents and tourists deserve,” the reclamation and conversion of 2.5 acres into a riverwalk and “great lawn” for passive recreation and event space for use by the public was met with visible signs of approval, while the potential for the development of a state of the art visitor center draw audible gasps of positivity.
“This visitors center,” Leonard Zax, president of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson said, “will not just be for tourists, it will also be for local students to learn about Paterson’s history.”
The two story facility that will boast views of the Falls and house a variety of interactive exhibits will give visitors a chance to spend more time learning about Paterson, Zax said. The born and bred Patersonian, and longtime lawyer that gave up a successful career to help lead the effort that brought national park status to the Great Falls, suggested once people “know Paterson” they will be more comfortable visiting the city’s many restaurants.
“This will have ripple effects that will expand across our city.”
Concluding the community forum were presentations from Paterson Public Schools on the construction a new middle school at the site for the former Don Bosco Tech and the anticipated September 2020 opening of a new middle school by the Community School of Paterson located across the street from their current classroom space that houses younger children on Spruce Street.
The CCSP project, by bringing their facilities closer together will create an education community,” that will benefit parents and students Mike Cassidy, NJCDC’s director of real estate development, said.
“It’s always good to inform the community,” Thomas Jan told TAPinto Paterson after the event concluded. Sharing a similar sentiment to Zax the third generation Patersonian said that “it’s good for all of us when people visit Paterson and come to an area that they feel safe in.”
“I love Paterson, and I will always love Paterson,” Jan said adding his belief that the city that “means so much” to him is “headed in the right direction.
JFK High School sophomore, and NJCDC Youth Council member, Chloe Shepard, who also listened intently to the presentations believes that using the Great Falls as a focal point for the city’s future makes sense because “it’s a spot that everyone knows.”
At just 16 the aspiring scientist, who has previously shown that she’s not afraid to ask hard questions, said that she was glad the event gave residents a chance to share opinions with local decision makers.
Through improved education and increased job opportunities Shepard believes that Paterson’s future is bright, and, in the five years since she first moved to the city has already undergone a “big improvement.”
“Today represents what community outreach, community organizing, and community advocacy is about,” Guarasci said to bring the event to an end. Listing off the projects discussed one last time the long-time vocal, and active, proponent of transforming Paterson said that “we can’t do this without each of you.”
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