New Life For A Grand Old Sports Arena

The Herald News
By:  Eileen Markey, Staff
October 16, 2002

The fabled Eastside versus Kennedy High School football games could be back at Hinchliffe Stadium in a few years.

The mayor and the state-appointed schools superintendent Monday unveiled a plan to renovate the historic, 9,500-seat stadium and build a sports academy on its grounds.

The proposal, which could cost between $22 million and $34 million, calls for the 70-year-old stadium to be turned into a sports high school, with classrooms, a football, soccer and baseball field, swimming pool and possibly an ice rink.

“We think this is a doable project,” said Schools Superintendent Edwin Duroy. “When I came here five years ago, one of the first things people asked me was what was I going to do with Hinchliffe Stadium? Now we have an answer.”

Duroy said he hopes the stadium will be renovated and the school opened in the next four years. The stadium has been in disuse and disrepair since it last played host to school sports in 1996.

Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres praised the plan, calling it an essential part of revitalizing the Great Falls National Historic Landmark District.  “What we’re looking to do is not only build a school facility, but build a school facility that has great use for the community,” he said. Torres said that, as he lobbies to get the Great Falls district designated as a national park, he will push to have the rebuilt stadium included.  The city may also apply for grants on behalf of the stadium, but by and large will avoid spending city money on the project, he said. The school district will pay for construction of the school with $8 million to $10 million in capital improvement funds already approved by the state, Duroy said.

It will likely bond to pay for the extensive renovations and improvements to the rest of the stadium, he said.

Torres referred to $400 million in state Department of Education funds reserved for education projects that spur economic development as another possible funding source.

The proposed renovations include a new track and field, a cafeteria with views of Manhattan and the Great Falls that could be used as a banquet hall and making the stadium handicapped accessible. The main feature of the plan is a classroom building on the Maple Street corner of the stadium that would house the Sports Business Academy, a small high school dedicated to preparing students for careers in the sports industry.  The first 30 Sports Business Academy students attend classes at John F.  Kennedy High School. The Hinchliffe plan calls for a 19,724-square-foot school for 175 students. Board of Education commissioners, city councilmen and the state Assembly members present at the meeting were excited about the project.

“I’m encouraged to see this new step, and on behalf of myself and Assemblyman [Alfred] Steele, we will do everything in our power to try to see where additional funding may be,” said Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, D-Paterson, who shared childhood memories of competing in the stadium.  Councilman-at-large Kenneth Morris said he was happy there was a plan for the stadium.

“I am extremely excited about what is happening here. Finally the right hand knows what the left hand is doing,” he said, referring to the cooperation between city hall and the school district, which owns the stadium.  The art deco stadium was once home to the New York Black Yankees, a Negro League team. Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Doby tried out for the Newark Eagles baseball team at the stadium in 1942, said Flavia Alaya, a member of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, a preservationist group.  In 1946, the Paterson Panthers, a professional football team, played the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hinchliffe, which later became a major boxing and car-racing arena. Before any work begins, the school district needs to secure funding, hire an architectural and engineering firm and win planning board approval.

Board of Education Commissioner Kemper McDowell applauded the proposal as a positive step for the city. “Growing up, one of the highlights of the year was the Thanksgiving Day game at Hinchliffe Stadium. I’m happy if the young people of today will have that same opportunity.” There will be a public forum to discuss the plans tonight at 6:30 at John F. Kennedy High School.