Local officials in Paterson have long dreamed of a renaissance in their gritty town, especially in the area surrounding its iconic Great Falls, whose cascading waters once powered the city’s pioneering place in the Industrial Revolution and now serve as the centerpiece of a popular National Historic Park.
But realizing that transformation has been a daunting, complicated and expensive task, with a long to-do list topped by the need to rid the area of the ruins of long-abandoned factories and mills.
On Thursday, state officials joined Mayor Andre Sayegh to announce a state initiative designed to help Paterson jumpstart the effort. The city, and 11 others across the state, are now part of the Community Collaborative Initiative, a program where the state Department of Environmental Protection works within the community to identify abandoned, formerly industrial tracts known as brownfields, clean them, and figure out what’s next in terms of redevelopment.
“As you can see, some of the buildings have collapsed,” said AJ Joshi, who will serve as the DEP’s onsite representative in Paterson to shepherd the program.
Joshi and the others had gathered at the old Allied Textile Printing, or ATP, tract in the Great Falls Historic District, a seven-acre industrial site that once produced firearms, silk and other textiles. The last company manufacturing there went out of business in the 1980s, and the area was plagued with fires.
“There’s anything from asbestos-containing materials to underground storage tanks,” Joshi said. “We have to take them out because they may be releasing unknown substances into the ground and affecting not only soils but the ground water as well. And then asbestos, if it’s viable, if it gets into the air [it’s] harmful to humans, mesothelioma and other ailments that can occur from asbestos, so it needs to be removed properly.”
Over the years, numerous efforts have been launched to remake the ATP site, with limited success.
“Paterson has sort of been on pause for a long time,” Sayegh said.
The city needs the help, according to Michael Powell, Paterson’s director of economic development.
“As a cash-strapped city with a structural deficit, we don’t have a lot of the resources that are available to us to do the 30-page application, to do the 50-page research project, to really put these things together that are really complicated and have held the city back for a bit,” he said. “So, what this really does provides us is the impetus, the capacity and the resources to put it all together into a package to make really complex properties and projects come alive.”
Expansion of the CCI program, which had been limited to Camden, Trenton and Perth Amboy, was funded by the state Economic Development Authority, which approved a $15 million brownfield loan program earlier this year.
Other resources are also available under CCI.
“Gov. Murphy’s incentive package proposal has a $20 million annual remediation tax credit as part of that program,” said Tim Sullivan, the EDA’s chief executive, put in place by the first-term Democrat as part of an effort to reform the agency.
Frank McLaughlin with NJDEP has worked with the EDA on remediating brownfields in Camden for 16 years.
“Camden’s undergoing a renaissance of vertical development now along its waterfront and downtown,” he said. “And all that was done because the land was cleaned up and water infrastructure investments and transportation improvements were done.”
Officials in Paterson would like to add Hinchliffe Stadium and old factories beyond the ATP tract to the list of possible redevelopment sites. One component of CCI is helping to identify which projects are ready to access the available funding.