PATERSON, NJ- School Board Commissioner Emmanuel Capers says he wants Paterson to be “the best athletic town in the state,” but knows the city has to “think outside-the-box” to do it. With that in mind, has a new project proposal to help push the city in the right direction.

“We have no indoor facilities,” Capers lamented. He chose to take his own advice literally, and think outside-of-the box. “Instead of putting a building up, what if we put a bubble up?”

The “bubble” would be a 200 x 300 foot inflatable dome on a lot behind School #15 that is owned by the city, but currently unused and dilapidated. “There’s nothing there,” says Capers. “Nobody even has another proposal.”

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The project would cost an estimated $4.5 million, which Capers hopes to raise through grants and private investments. It would also include new bathrooms and a concession stand.

Capers has been reaching out to community leaders and others to drum up support for the proposal. First to sign on was former NFL running-back, and Paterson native, Marcel Shipp, who has committed to providing an unspecified sum, as well as to lend his name to a wider fundraising effort.

Shipp told TAPinto Paterson that he supports it the idea because projects like these “give kids hope” that someone is looking out for them. “Paterson has the best athletes I’ve ever seen. Our history shows that,” said Shipp, adding that football is the reason he was able to go to college and get “where I wanted to be in life.” 

The thing holding Paterson back, as Capers sees it, is a lack of facilities. “We won’t have anybody swimming in the Olympics because we don’t have a pool. We’d never have anyone in the PGA because we don’t have a golf team,” he says.

Right now, the football field at School 15 plays host to a number of teams including boys and girls soccer, and freshman, JV, and Varsity football. The new dome could facilitate practices for those sports as well as others, including basketball and track.

Capers and Shipp are working to build a network of local investors to fund the project. To that end, they’ve managed to draw the attention of developer and philanthropist Charlie Florio and his team of professionals, who, earlier this week, along with his team, presented a plan for the purchase and redevelopment of the Paterson Armory site, which sits adjacent to the where the sports bubble is proposed to be built.

Calling it a “pretty cool” project, Florio committed to donating 10 percent of the cost, or $450,000, as well as offering the expertise of his project managers to review the plans in search of potentials savings, but not without stipulations. Saying that he wants to see other developers who are “making millions” in Paterson step up their giving, Florio insisted that his will be the “last dollars in, not the first.” 

In addition to Blue Onyx, Alma Realty, and Cesar Pena, who recently donated $30,000 for the renovation of eight local ball-fields, Florio also said he’d like to see financial commitments from the city and the Paterson Board of Education, whether through grants or foundations, and for other local businesses to get in the habit of giving.

“We can’t all give thousands,” Florio said, “but we can all give $100 or $200.”

In short, he concluded, for the project to be successful, “we need partnership. We need to do it all together.”

On the public side, Capers has already tapped community development block grants allotted to the city by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a potential source of funding. He plans to meet with Mayor Andre Sayegh sometime in the near future to discuss the feasibility of using these grants 

Sayegh responded that while he doesn’t know specifics, he is looking “forward to seeing more details on this potential project.”

“I can say this,” he added, “I am supportive of efforts that improve the quality of life for youth in this city, especially public/private ones.”

For Sayegh, development projects like this and the proposed renovation of Hinchliffe Stadium tie into his ultimate goal of making Paterson a “destination city,” in this case for athletics. Capers agreed, adding “recreation is the heartbeat of our city.” 

Capers believes he can bring the Paterson community together to help support its youth. He sees this dome as piece of the puzzle that will put the city’s athletics on the map.

Shipp offered a similar sentiment saying that “It takes a village to raise kids. All hands on deck equals a successful, safe, child.”