PATERSON, NJ - The Paterson City Council voted 6-2 in favor of a 30-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement that is expected to pave the way for the rehabilitation of historic Hinchliffe Stadium. The project will also bring 75 affordable housing units for senior citizens, a childcare center, and a 315-space parking garage to the area that has sat mostly derelict for decades.
The vote came during a Special Meeting that was once again marked by technical and communications difficulties and heated exchanges over etiquette, as well as the overall future of development in Paterson.
“As we celebrate the centennial of the Negro League’s inception we are one step closer to bringing back a stadium that was a game-changer for African Americans,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said following the vote.
At the outset of the meeting, Fifth Ward Councilman Luis Velez put forward an effort to table the motion which Sayegh Administration officials said was time sensitive due to deadlines imposed by the utilization of state-delivered tax credits for the project. When that motion failed, Velez attempted to change the meeting to a workshop so that the item could be discussed but not acted on. Council President Flavio Rivera shot back that this was not possible since the public had been notified, per state law, that action would be taken.
According to Paterson Director of Economic Development Mike Powell, the PILOT will provide just over $3.8 million in public revenue over the next 30 years. First Ward Councilman Mike Jackson and Councilwoman-At-Large Martiza Davila both argued that this number pales in comparison to what the regular taxes would be if the project were liable to taxes at the regular rate. The two later offered the only dissenting votes on the proposal.
For their part the development team of Baye Adofo Wilson and Joe Portelli didn’t dispute this, but offered that in order to make the project financially feasible, as well as keep the rent low on the affordable housing component, the PILOT was necessary as the Housing Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) won’t grant the necessary approvals without it.
Asked directly how the project is going to benefit the community, a major sticking point for Davila, Wilson pointed out that the stadium, after 21 years of disuse, will be “given back to the community,” and available to high school athletes, and that the senior affordable housing and childcare components were added because of a need expressed by former Councilman Shahin Khalique and shared by others on the body at the time.
The PILOT payments, Powell explained, are based off of anticipated revenues from the various components, and stand at just over six percent for the housing piece- the highest allowed by law, and ten percent for the parking garage, stadium, and childcare center. Asked by Velez if the financial agreement could be reduced to 15 years instead of 30 Portelli responded, likening the arrangement to a home mortgage, sharing that if that were the case the developer’s repayments would be much higher, negating their ability to offer the housing units at rents senior citizens in the area would be able to afford.
Putting the need to grant the PILOT into perspective was Fourth Ward Councilwoman Ruby Cotton who challenged her colleagues to find an alternative. “If council people know someone that wants to fix the stadium bring them in.”
Several times throughout the more than three-hour meeting Rivera worked to keep the conversation directed at the topic at hand, the granting of the PILOT, and not revert to the details contained in the previously approved redevelopers agreement, granting of the tax credits, or financial arrangements of the developers, including an anticipated fee in the area of $8 million.
“I don’t agree with how the tax credits were used but that’s not the issue now,” Rivera said casting his vote in the affirmative and ultimately sending the matter for a second, and what the Administration hopes will be a final, reading on August 11.
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