Abbott and Costello. If you don’t recognize those names, you’ve probably heard their classic “Who’s On First?” routine. In New Jersey, you’re likely to remember the public park that bears the name of Lou Costello. On June 26, 1992, a statue of Costello, complete with a baseball bat, was dedicated in the newly named Lou Costello Memorial Park in Paterson. That statue has been seen in episodes of “The Sopranos” and elsewhere.
But in recent years, the park had become neglected, all but abandoned, with the gazebo becoming an unofficial shelter for homeless people. In November, plans were unveiled to renovate and restore the historic park, including a full redesign. The gazebo would be replaced with a stage, honoring Costello’s love of performing arts. New lights would be installed, trees would line all sides of the park and — in what would surely please many families — a new playground would be constructed. The playground would include a special section for children with autism, using pictures for easier navigation and words on a slideshow for those who prefer such assistance. Offering various accommodations would be a major boon for families wishing safer places for their differently abled children to play.
Six firms competed for the $1.2 million contract. Adamo Brothers Construction was chosen as the lowest responsible bidder for such a large undertaking as the project had to be completed in six months. Mayor Andre Sayegh officially broke ground Dec. 8, 2020, and work began April 9, 2021.
While the projected plan was to complete the project in June, COVID-19, alas, slowed down the progress somewhat, according to Michael Cassidy of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation. “COVID-19 restrictions and availability of certain construction materials have impacted the project schedule. That said, the project contractor is well underway, and the project is scheduled to be complete in late summer/early fall 2021.”
This renovation plan had many elements, not least of which was the necessary funding. Cassidy explained, “In 2016, the Paterson-based nonprofit organization New Jersey Community Development Corporation applied for and received a grant from the Passaic County Open Space program to fund a community-led design for the revisioning and rehabilitation of Lou Costello Park. NJCDC used the grant funds to retain landscape architect firm Arterial to facilitate a design process based on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design strategies and input from the public. Upon completing the design, NJCDC applied for and received a subsequent grant from Passaic County to put toward the physical rehabilitation of the park, but the value of that grant was not enough to pay for the proposed improvements. Additional funding was needed.”
Cassidy further stated, “NJCDC then worked with the city of Paterson Department of Public Works to prepare a grant application for the city’s community development block grant program. In the end, the project truly represents a partnership between the community and multiple levels of government, with funds coming from municipal, county and federal sources. Fortunately, there are no loans needed for the park; in addition to the grant awards from Passaic County and the city of Paterson, NJCDC received a grant from another nonprofit organization, Alexandra’s Playground, which will be used to provide additional equipment and finishes at the proposed playground.”
When asked if there were any members of the Costello family still involved, Cassidy said, “There is an Abbott and Costello Fan Club that is involved with the park and is the liaison for the Costello family. However, the fan club is not responsible for regular maintenance and upkeep because the park is municipally owned. The current state of disrepair is a result of many common challenges facing urban cities: crime, loitering, limited resources for maintenance and repairs.” Cassidy added, “It is a possibility that a local support group could organize donations from the public to host events and programming, but thankfully, the improvement budget is already sufficient to fund the physical rehabilitation of the park.”
The CPTED strategies will serve the updated park well. Cassidy said, “Their plans, which included community participants as well, included ideas for detracting unwanted behaviors and reducing crime/loitering. In addition to the all-inclusive playground, there will be active and passive elements — chess tables, table tennis and seating areas as well as the stage. Because the new stage has no overhead shelter, it’s expected this will deter the use of the park by homeless individuals. The new lighting will help, too.
“The community-led design team was well aware that in order to prevent the park falling back into disrepair, it would be necessary to reactivate the space into a vibrant, regularly used facility. The Community Outreach Department at NJCDC is currently working with neighborhood residents and stakeholders as well as other nonprofits and local schools to build a program calendar that will keep the park lively. It is important to note that the inclusive playground was first recommended by a group of parents participating in the design meetings. They understood the importance of installing features that would increase utilization.”
Lou Costello would undoubtedly be humbled and pleased that so much care, thought and work has gone into restoring this beautiful place. It is hoped that the newly renovated park will be the site of many happy times, events and memories for families and other visitors.