PATERSON, NJ- With the roar of water gushing down behind them Mayor Andre Sayegh led a cadre of local, county, state and federal leaders in officially reopening Overlook Park and the Great Falls Amphitheater on Friday. As if in homage to his original vision when he helped give birth to the nation’s first planned city, the restored bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton stood proudly over the proceedings on what was a postcard perfect day.
The renewed vision, Darren Boch, Superintendent of the Great Falls National Historic Park, said, is an “example of what a partnership park looks like,” and is one that in its implementation, which has been decades in the making, is a reflection of the city’s “glorious past and even brighter future.”
Established by an act of Congress in 2009, under the leadership of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Bill Pascrell, both Paterson natives, the Great Falls National Park welcomed 300,000 visitors in 2017. The $3.2 million project opened on Friday features ADA compliant landscape improvements including a paved pathway and stairs to connect Overlook Park with Mary Ellen Kramer Park, soil replacement, a new parking area, LED area lighting, picnic tables, and a natural stoned seating amphitheater.
Calling it a highlight of his first 100 days in office Sayegh said that opening was a proud event, not just for Paterson, but also for the United States. “This is where the American Dream was launched,” he declared. And despite being a city of “floods, fires, and flaw,” he continued, “it is because of our Falls that we will rise again.”
Former Mayor Pat Kramer, who presided over the city’s affairs between 1967 and 1971, offered additional historical context to the event saying that “every time our nation was in trouble the roads to the solutions led back to her industrial capability, born right here in Paterson.”
Pascrell, also a celebrated former mayor of the city that he has called home all of his life, continued in his predecessor’s words while also looking to the future by adding that “this is where America attained greatness,” and, with the continued contributions of immigrants that make it one of the most diverse city’s in the US, “it’s the future that will continue to make us the greatest nation in the world.”
Perhaps channeling some of the energy of her former student, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, whom Sayegh has called his “favorite professor,” predicted that the park will become “a New Jersey destination for anyone coming to our state,” a sentiment that the mayor himself has frequently shared touting the Great Falls as the cornerstone of his economic development plan to continue the renaissance many stakeholders have predicted is beginning.
Not to be outdone by the enthusiasm of the gathered dignitaries were nearly two dozen students of the Paterson Music Project who delivered two moving performances at the event. Speaking together Ajaylah, 13, and Rachael, 12, said they were “proud” to be asked to participate in such a momentous day for in their city.
It makes us feel like we are important and involved.”
Asked later about the significance of their flawless adaptation of “We are Here,” a song first released in 2014 by Alicia Keys as a prelude to her calls for a more just and equal world, the musicians added that “we are here and ready to make a change.”
Given the focus on engaging young Patersonians on making a brighter future for their city these words should be music to the ears of any of those gathered on Friday.
Phase 3 of the overall Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park improvement project includes the creation of space for community events, performances, picnics, and festivals as well as an open lawn area on the grounds of the former Allied Textile Printing industrial complex. An event to kickoff the Quarry Lawn Project is scheduled for Friday, November 2 at 11:00 a.m.
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