by Joe Malonconico

PATERSON — Construction will start soon on the next major development in the Great Falls national park, a $7.9 million project that would let visitors stroll among factory ruins highlighting Paterson’s role in the Industrial Revolution.

The project would expand the national park by 2.5 acres, extending from the current Overlook section farther down along the Passaic River. It would convert what’s now a dormant former manufacturing site into a short river walk and an open lawn for public events.

“This will be new parkland where there has never been a park before,” said Darren Boch, superintendent of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

The boundaries of the expanded park would let visitors walk through ruins of an old silk mill and a dye factory and also get within 50 yards of the remnants of the gun mill where Colt .45 revolvers were manufactured in the 19th century, official said.

The work will include the removal of contamination at the factory sites as well as cleaning graffiti from the ruins.

In an 8-1 vote, the City Council on Tuesday night approved a $7.67 million construction contract and $252,000 for engineers to oversee the work. The money will come from a variety of sources, including about $2.8 million in city borrowing, $1.85 million from a National Park Service grant, $1.5 million from state-allocated COVID-relief funding and $1.3 million from the Passaic County open space program.

“This is long overdue,” said City Council President Shahin Khalique. “I’ve been hearing about this river walk at the falls for years. It’s time to put the shovel in the ground.”

In 2018, when city officials unveiled preliminary plans for what they call the “Quarry Lawn and River Walk” initiative, the cost estimates were $4.2 million. Officials attributed the price increase to the inflation that has occurred since the start of the pandemic and various changes in the work to be done.

“We’re paying far too much for it,” said Councilman Michael Jackson, who cast the only vote against the construction contract.

Other members of the council praised the project. Councilman Al Abdelaziz, for example, said he would like to see Paterson eventually extend the river walk down along the Passaic though other parts of the city. “This needs to be bigger,” he said.

Councilman Luis Velez alluded to the area’s troubled past in saying city officials need to make sure the new parkland doesn’t get used for “other things that’s not tourism.”

For more than 20 years, vagrants and drug addicts had frequented the factory ruins, using the area to sleep and get high, until officials erected a new fence about 18 months ago.

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