PATERSON COUNCIL REJECTS HINCHLIFFE STADIUM PLAN

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PATERSON -- The mayor's plans to rebuild historic Hinchliffe Stadium, which has been vacant and crumbling for more than two decades, were dealt a serious blow early Wednesday morning when the City Council rejected a lease that municipal officials say is essential to the $70 million project.

The council voted, 5-4, to reject the lease at as Mayor Andre Sayegh watched the proceedings at home on television. The proposal would have extended a lease between the city and the Paterson school district, which owns the stadium. The lease exists to cover the time span of potential state tax credits for the redevelopment project.

Opponents said they had too many unanswered questions about the financing of the deal and argued that Paterson's economic development efforts should focus on projects that would expand the tax base and create jobs.

Moments after the vote, Sayegh said his Hinchliffe plans are "not dead," and his economic development director huddled outside the council chambers with the project's developers to strategize over how to secure approval.

In addition to rebuilding the stadium, the project would include 65 housing units, a 270-space parking garage and a restaurant.

The Sayegh administration now must play a high-stakes game of beat the clock, officials acknowledged.

That's because the Hinchliffe reconstruction is predicated on the New Jersey Economic Development Authority's approving $40 million in tax credits for the project, according to the developers and officials. But the state requires applications for use of those tax credits to be submitted by .

Sayegh said he would make another try to get council approval before the end of the month.

When asked whether his administration and the developers would submit the tax credit application without council support, Sayegh said all options are being considered.

"We're going to keep pushing forward on Hinchliffe Stadium," he said. "We have an opportunity to make history."

Hinchliffe has been designated a national landmark because it is one of a handful of ballparks still standing where segregated Negro League baseball games were played during the mid-20th century.

But the stadium is barely still standing, as a result of neglect after Paterson officials closed it in 1997.

The school board last week approved the lease that the council has since rejected. The developer, Baye Adofo-Wilson, a former deputy mayor in Newark, has said the rebuilt stadium would be used primarily by the school district.

Voting against the lease were council members Maritza Davila, Michael Jackson, Shahin Khalique, Flavio Rivera and Luis Velez.

"You're asking me to blindly vote on something," Khalique said, arguing that the administration had not provided complete information on the project.

Meanwhile, Jackson, who played high school football at Hinchliffe, said he dearly wanted to see the stadium rebuilt, but asserted that the city would be better off using the tax credits for the proposed $100 million construction of an indoor arena and hotel at the Center City Mall.

He said the hotel and arena being proposed by prominent Paterson developer Alma Realty would provide more than 400 jobs for the city.

"These same kids who are going to play on this field, their mothers are going to need jobs," Jackson said. "It's not the better project for the community, not right now," Jackson added, referring to the Hinchliffe plan.

But Sayegh's business administrator, Vaughn McKoy, repeatedly told the council it should not pit the Hinchliffe project against the mall proposal.

"It's not an either-or," McKoy said.

The state has authorized $130 million in tax credits for Paterson under the Economic Redevelopment and Growth program. The state already has approved the use of $30 million of that financing for the construction of a new parking garage on Ward Street to replace the existing one.

Besides its plans to incorporate $40 million of the credits in the Hinchliffe project, the Sayegh administration has not revealed how it plans to use the rest of the financing. Those applications also must be submitted to the state by , under the law that created the tax credits.

Voting in favor of the lease were council members Al Abdelaziz, Ruby Cotton, William McKoy and Lilisa Mimms.

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