Should Hinchliffe Be a Local Historic Landmark? Not Everyone Agrees
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 • 12:56am
PATERSON, NJ – The City Council on Tuesday night heard sharply conflicting opinions on whether Hinchliffe Stadium should be designated as municipal historic site, a clash that pretty much pitted the Board of Education against the Paterson Historic Preservation Commission.
School board members argued that the historic designation would complicate their efforts to renovate the crumbling stadium and raise the cost of repairs as well as rebuilding. But the historic preservation advocates insisted that the extra costs for complying with historic regulations would be minimal and they said that designating the stadium a local landmark would boost the city’s chances of getting funds to revitalize Hinchliffe.
The city council held the special meeting with the school board and preservation commission to help it decide whether to pass an ordinance making Hinchliffe a city landmark. The joint session was supposed to help build consensus, but it actually seemed to highlight the steadfast opposing positions on the issue. At times, the discussions focused on why there were not enough chairs for the school board members, or on the ethnic composition of the preservation commission, or on which sports should be played there.
School board member Manuel Martinez said he was “dismayed” by the personnel disputes that erupted and distracted officials from the question of historic preservation for Hinchliffe. “This is a time for us to stop being selfish and start being selfless,’’ said Martinez. “This is about the greater good.’’
City Council President Anthony Davis said he had hoped the council would be ready to vote on the landmark ordinance at its meetings in February. “Now I don’t know,’’ Davis said. Most likely, Davis said, he would put the ordinance on the council’s workshop agenda for discussion on February 5.
Hinchliffe, one of three stadiums from the old Negro Leagues that is still standing, already is on the state’s register of historic places. Moreover, it’s currently under consideration for inclusion on the national list of Historic Landmarks.
Some advocates say it’s embarrassing for Hinchliffe to make the state and national lists, but not get local historic designation.
“We look silly, we look backward,’’ said David Soo, during the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “We look like we can’t take care of the treasure in our backyard.’’
Mayor Jeffrey Jones said adding the local historic designation to Hincliffe’s credentials would improve its chances of getting funding for much-needed rehabilitation. Jones said the stadium continues to deteriorate and could crumble beyond repair if action isn’t taken soon. “You’ve got to do something before you lose it,’’ said Jones.
In fact, city officials recently decided to earmark about $1 million towards the stabilization of the stadium.
School board members said they too wanted to see Hinchliffe’s stabilization made a priority. School board member Jonathan Hodges said the school district, which owns Hinchliffe, needed to maintain control over the stadium without having to worry about getting approvals from the preservation commission. “We want to be able to go to a vendor – any vendor – and say there are no strings attached,’’ said Hodges.
Hodges suggested that city officials allow the stabilization work to be completed, and then reconsider the local landmark status. Hodges warned that the constraints of the landmark designation could inflate the costs to a point that Hinchliffe doesn’t get repaired. “Money is going to dictate what happens here, not just a sense of history,’’ Hodges said.
But the preservation commission chairman, Martin Feitlowitz, and its vice chairman, Kenneth Simpson, said Hinchliffe already is under restrictions because of its status on the state landmark list. Feitlowitz said the bulks of the expense at the stadium would involve basis repair work that has nothing to do with historic preservation.
“The preservation aspect of it is going to be a minimal percentage of the overall costs,’’ Feitlowitz said.
Often, officials who spoke of Hincliffe recalled their own personnel connections to a stadium that had been a focal point of Paterson’s culture for decades. Davis recalled his high school football career playing there. Feitlowitz said he met his wife at Hinchliffe. Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman said he played soccer for Kennedy High there. Councilwoman Ruby Cotton mentioned watching her son play football there.
Davis said restoring Hinchliffe could give city residents an emotional boost. “I know we need something to jumpstart our spirit again,’’ Davis said.