PATERSON, NJ - The Paterson City Council will hold an Emergency Meeting Thursday as part of an effort to advance a three-piece project that will bring a world-class visitor center, 24,000 sf community center, and 270 car parking garage to the area surrounding the Paterson Great Falls.
While the ordinance being considered calls for the City to guarantee up to $38 million worth of debt issued by the Passaic County Improvement Authority, the real risk to local taxpayers, officials and professionals involved in the project said, is less than $5 million.
“This is a unique opportunity to dig deep into our history and present a more promising future,” Mayor Andre Saygh said at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting of the Paterson City Council where the proposal was discussed formally for the first time. Sayegh would go on to tout the partners working on the project: New Brunswick based DEVCO, the New Jersey Development Corporation (NJCDC), and the Hamilton Partnership for their shared commitment to improving the “image, appeal, and economic drawing power” of the already popular destination.
Although the Great Falls, according to the National Park Service, drew nearly 300,000 visitors in 2019, the vast majority, Sayegh lamented, “spend little time in Paterson, and less money,” opting instead to take pictures, post them on social media, and move on.
At the financial heart of the project is the monetization of tax credits issued by the State of New Jersey worth approximately $27 million. The Hamilton Partnership has raised close to $9 million for the visitor’s center while the NJCDC has committed $3 million towards the development of the community center.
Councilman Flavio Rivera put his financial acumen to work for much of the meeting, touting the arrangement as one that he believes makes sense for the city. Having earned a reputation as an able steward of the public’s dollars, Rivera, who also serves as the chair of the body’s finance committee, admitted that he was not initially a supporter of the project, but that all involved were able to show him that it now makes sense.
First Ward Councilman Michael Jackson voiced his concerns about the project, notably asking whether or not project labor agreements would be in place or whether efforts would be made to ensure local employment, but no firm opposition surfaced during the more than two-hour discussion.
The project, and the financial arrangement the council was being asked to consider, Councilman Bill McKoy said, is “about a vision, and it’s about faith in Paterson.”
Bringing the presentation to a close, perhaps attempting to offer his own dose of inspiration was Director of Economic Development who referred to the development a chance to celebrate Paterson’s diversity and immigration.
“It is a chance to celebrate a vision of technology and change in a society that is very much separate and very much challenged, particularly right now,” Powell said. “We need to find a way to build a new narrative and a project like this does exactly that.”