Historic Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson — one of the last remaining stadiums to have played host to a Negro League baseball game — is being brought back to life, thanks to a $67 million Economic Redevelopment & Growth award from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Wednesday.
The stadium, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 2013, has been abandoned for more than two decades — a status that belies its importance to the city and the state in previous days.
Hinchliffe has hosted numerous athletic, entertainment and cultural events. At least five future baseball Hall of Famers played there: Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and “Cool Papa” Bell. Legendary jazz composer and musician Duke Ellington played one of his final concerts there. Even Abbott and Costello played there (Lou Costello was a native of Paterson).
Despite this — and despite numerous efforts to restore the facility — it had become dilapidated in recent years. That may all soon change.
Thanks to the ERG award, the project is expected to include:
- A 7,800-seat multipurpose stadium for baseball, soccer, track and football;
- A recreational and cultural facility with a museum dedicated to Negro League baseball;
- Seventy-five units of affordable housing for seniors;
- A 12,000-square-foot restaurant and event space;
- A 315-spot parking garage.
The project, which will begin construction in March, hopes to be completed by the fall of 2022 — in time for the school year. The fields will be used by Paterson’s local high schools.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said the project will be an economic boost the city needs as it begins its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) hopes it will be more than that.
“The resurrection of Hinchliffe Stadium is not just about an historic ballpark, but about uplifting a neighborhood in a city that is making strides toward its own revitalization,” she said. “While it has been tragic to see Hinchliffe fall into disrepair over these many years, today we imagine a new Hinchliffe that will not only look back at the sacrifice and endurance of such players as Paterson’s own Larry Doby, but will one day provide an opportunity for future boys and girls who can be inspired by its very existence toward their own unique greatness.
“This ERG award will nurture the future of Hinchliffe Stadium, and its surrounding neighborhood, so that together they will once again become a vibrant part of Paterson, a sorely needed recreational asset for its young people and a source of renewal for the entire city for many years to come.”
When Baye Adofo-Wilson, the former deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development for Newark, decided to start his own development company, BAW Development, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: Work on projects that have high impact in underserved communities.
“I want to work in minority communities or urban communities on projects that are cultural, historical or sustainable,” he told ROI-NJ. “I want to work on projects that can be transformative.”
And, while he has been able to do a number of projects involving housing, none compares to the opportunity to work on Hinchliffe Stadium. Its significance is not lost on Adofo-Wilson, who grew up in Paterson.
“Hinchliffe Stadium is an extremely important project to me, not only as a Patersonian, but also as an African American,” he said. “The incredibly rich history of Hinchliffe Stadium, from being home to Negro League baseball, to the motorcar races, the boxing tournaments, the jazz concerts and the legendary Eastside and Central High School Thanksgiving Day football games, made Hinchliffe Stadium the center of culture and life in Paterson for decades, especially during Jim Crow segregation.
“I’m really excited, thrilled and humbled to be a part of the team that is preserving and restoring this National Historic Landmark.”
Adofo-Wilson said he’s grateful the EDA came through with funding.
“There’s no project without the EDA financing,” he said.
It’s one of the reasons why he called Hinchliffe the most complicated project in town. Here’s another one: He’ll need to preserve the seating and the stadium’s well-known art deco exterior wall.
Adofo-Wilson said he is eager to get going. He knows, after all, how long folks have waited.
“It’s sat vacant for 24 years,” he said.
EDA officials say the project will be a transformative moment, noting that the median income in the city is just $28,000 and the current unemployment rate is above 9% — double the national average.
Many Paterson residents live in homes that are more than 50 years old, which is problematic for many tenants and is particularly dangerous for seniors.
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) said it’s a win-win project.
“The city, as well as the state of New Jersey, will benefit from the economic stimulus this type of grand scale revitalization will provide,” she said.
But the cultural significance of Hinchliffe — it was once home to two Negro League teams: the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans — cannot be overstated.
Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the EDA, said the message being sent to the community is clear.
“Rehabilitating a historic landmark that was the site of major accomplishments by Black athletes will send an important message that New Jersey values our diverse residents and is committed to supporting and celebrating their achievements,” he said.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) agreed.
“The cultural impact in honoring the site’s history as a Negro League baseball stadium with a museum, a stadium and a recreational center for the community will finally recognize Paterson’s esteemed place in sports history,” he said.
The significance reached down to the first family of Paterson baseball: The Dobys.
Larry Doby is perhaps an overlooked figure in baseball history. He grew up in Paterson, played in the Negro Leagues for Newark and reached the Baseball Hall of Fame as a seven-time all-star. But, since he was the second Black player to break the color barrier in baseball, he is not nearly as well-known as Jackie Robinson.
And, while a Larry Doby statue already exists in Paterson, Adofo-Wilson said he’s interested in creating another.
Larry Doby Jr. certainly would welcome that. But, on this day, he said he was just thrilled the new complex might create new memories for the next generation.
“Paterson is a magical place for me and my family,” he said. “My hope is that other Patersonians can excel on this hallowed ground just like my father did.”