Andre Sayegh Special to the USA TODAY NETWORK
Published 4:00 a.m. ET July 10, 2020
On March 16, when I issued an executive order shutting down all nonessential businesses, the order also closed the parks. It was particularly difficult to close the Great Falls national park, because it was showing so much promise.
According to the National Park Service, more than 300,000 people visited the Great Falls last year. With the new amphitheater and the other improvements made to the park, we were expecting to increase the number of tourists. Then the pandemic touched down in Paterson.
The Great Falls is where our city was born and where we believe our city will be reborn. It is the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi and is one of America’s newest national parks. It possesses the potential to be a top-notch tourist attraction.
Historians note that on July 10, 1778, Alexander Hamilton was having lunch with then-Gen. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at the Great Falls during the Revolutionary War. While feasting on cow tongue and cold ham, and dousing it down with diluted beer, called grog, Hamilton was enthralled by the Falls and envisioned creating a city completely based on being an industrial hub, and he vowed to return to bring that concept to manifestation.
True to his word, Hamilton would come back years later as the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. Hamilton founded Paterson with the notion that our city would become the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution and economic independence, fueled by the rushing water of the Passaic River. Thus, I believe that Paterson’s long-awaited renaissance rests with our city returning our roots.
Stirred by the spirit and vision of Hamilton, my administration earmarked about $38 million in state tax credits for a three-piece project that would include a world-class visitor center named after Paterson’s founding father, a 24,000-square-foot Youth Performing Arts Center and a 270-car parking garage in the area surrounding the Great Falls. Our proposal received a big boost from six enlightened members of the City Council when they voted to approved an ordinance in support of this ambitious endeavor.
Leading this historic effort is one of New Jersey’s most successful real estate developers, Chris Paladino and his team at the non-profit DEVCO. Their impressive track record includes transformational work in New Brunswick, Atlantic City and Newark.
The Hamilton Partnership for Paterson, led by Leonard Zax, is also a part of the project. His nonprofit organization has raised more than $8 million by enlisting the support of Hollywood heavy-hitters such as Adam Driver and Bette Midler, whose parents are from Paterson.
The New Jersey Community Development Corporation and its visionary leader, Bob Guarasci, are spearheading the effort to bring a much-needed Youth Performing Arts Center to Paterson. A renaissance would not be complete without the arts being at the heart of it. I anticipate concerts, plays and other artistic performances to take flight at the aforementioned facility.
My economic development director, Mike Powell, and I were adamant about championing these multi-pronged and multi-purpose projects because of the catalytic impact they will have on our local economy. Developing around the Great Falls will have a ripple effect. It will spur further growth, generating jobs and revenue. We also anticipate restaurants, retail outlets and souvenir stores emerging to enhance the aesthetic and economic appeal of the area. Our objective is to turn the Great Falls district into one of the most desirable destinations in the United States.
The Great Falls symbolizes the strength and significance of our city. Hamilton was a futurist, and his forward thinking brought Paterson to life. Now we have an opportunity put Paterson back on the map.
The Broadway musical about Hamilton was the all the rage, and the recent streaming of the movie version of the hit Broadway show has been very well-received. In fact, we are looking to capitalize on the musical’s popularity and will invite the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to the ribbon-cutting for the Hamilton Visitors Center.
As we move to open up all of the parks in Paterson, the first one I reopened was the Great Falls National Historical Park for the Memorial Day weekend. I believe it was the right decision, because it was immediately teeming with Patersonians and visitors from other states and towns.
Having 300,000 people visiting the Great Falls is a good start, but our goal is to attract over a million. Hamilton saw the big picture, and so do we. The tourist industry can and must flourish in Paterson.
We will rise because of our falls.
Andre Sayegh is mayor of Paterson.