Last month, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved $67 million in tax credits through its Economic Redevelopment & Growth program to preserve and rehabilitate historic Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson.
This ERG tax credit award marks a watershed moment not only for Silk City, but also for the sport of baseball and African American history, as it will help preserve one of only two remaining Negro Baseball League stadiums.
More than that, the transformation of Hinchliffe Stadium will serve as an important example of a new and all-too-rare kind of urban redevelopment in New Jersey — one rooted in sparking economic and community revitalization, while simultaneously honoring and supporting the existing populations and their cultural histories.
The renovation also will mark a new era of meaningful and productive state investment in the city of Paterson — one that should be copied throughout the state.
Construction will start on Hinchliffe Stadium in the coming weeks, paving the way for the redevelopment of the 7,800-seat stadium. The project also includes:
- 75 units of affordable housing for seniors;
- A preschool;
- A 12,000-square-foot restaurant and exhibition space dedicated to the Negro Baseball League; and
- A 315-spot parking garage.
Hinchliffe Stadium was once home to the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans. It hosted the Negro Baseball League equivalent of the World Series in 1933. Baseball Hall of Famer and Paterson native Larry Doby, who broke the American League’s color barrier in 1947 with the Cleveland Indians, had his tryout with the Newark Eagles at Hinchliffe Stadium.
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The beginnings of Hinchliffe Stadium’s decline can be traced back to 1991, when state officials took over the Paterson Public School District. Operating on a budget overseen by Trenton officials, who failed to grasp the historical and cultural significance of Hinchliffe Stadium, the property fell into significant disrepair. And, for many years, Hinchliffe Stadium has been used as little more than a parking lot and storage facility for the city’s Department of Public Works.
Over the last three decades, the city of Paterson has watched as the state of New Jersey made huge commitments to many other struggling urban centers; including funding office towers in Newark, casinos in Atlantic City and major employer projects to Camden and Jersey City — all with the intent of jump-starting economic recoveries. Paterson, the state’s third-most-populous city, was largely left to fend for itself.
While plans for Hinchliffe’s revitalization date back almost a decade, delivering this award is a testament to the commitment of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, Paterson’s state delegation, EDA officials, the County of Passaic, the Paterson Municipal Council, the Paterson Public School District and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh. This has been a particularly valiant effort, given the severe economic, social and physical effects felt across the state because of the pandemic.
The state of New Jersey extending this helping hand to Paterson holds enormous potential for other, less-prominent urban communities up and down the state; especially in places where the history of Jim Crow-era segregation, discrimination and disinvestment still mars many Black and brown neighborhoods. Over the last two decades, many of those communities have learned to associate “new investment” with development intended to attract outsiders in, rather than to increase affordability and wealth for those already living there.
The public championing of a project such as Hinchliffe Stadium may have powerful and widespread effects for New Jersey, both practically and symbolically.
The end product will create a new gathering place for local student-athletes and their fans, more affordable housing for aging residents, increased seats for preschoolers and a beautiful new restaurant for the city’s growing culinary scene. At the same time, it will preserve a powerful monument that represents the glories of Black baseball players who took the field at Hinchliffe, while acknowledging racial segregation kept those same Black athletes from joining Major League Baseball teams on baseball’s biggest and most lucrative stages.
If we, as a state, are to truly embrace a more equitable, inclusive and expansive style of urban redevelopment, we must be direct in acknowledging some of our painful histories. Only by doing this can we begin to truly design our neighborhoods and cities in a manner that has the potential to uplift all residents.
If both the public and private sectors commit to embarking on this endeavor together, we can position New Jersey as an attractive destination for future growth and position ourselves for that rarest of combinations — prosperity and economic equality.
Baye Adofo-Wilson is the founder and CEO of BAW Development. He previously served as deputy mayor for development in Newark during Mayor Ras Baraka’s first term.