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Downtown Niagara Falls Development Strategy

Niagara Falls, NY

Program

Mixed-Use

Client

USA Niagara
Empire State Development

Collaborators

Economic Analysis:
Forsyth Street Advisors

Cost Estimating:
Trophy Point Construction
Services & Consulting

Market Analysis:
CBRE

Public Engagement:
Highland Planning

Size

16.75 Acres

Status

Development Strategy
Complete June 2021

Niagara Falls has long been a magnet for bold visions of the future. These dreams have been propelled by the twin natures of this natural wonder: the romance of the Falls that has been an inspiration for millennia; and their awesome power that has been an economic dynamo for the Empire State and the neighboring Province of Ontario since the dawn of the industrial revolution. It is thanks to this duality that Niagara Falls is the location of both the Nation’s first state park, as well as the world’s first long-distance transmission power generation plant that turned the lights on in Buffalo while much of the rest of the planet was still lighting candles. The history of Niagara’s forward-looking optimism is written in plans, from Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan for the Niagara reservation to benefit the public to Robert Moses’s aggressive push for parkways and hydro power at the expense of the Tuscarora People. However, this enthusiasm for radical foresight did not spare the city from the harsh reality that much of America’s industrial and agrarian heartland faced in the mid-20th century, scored into the fabric of Niagara Falls through failed urban renewal plans, shuttered factories and the infamy of the Love Canal environmental disaster. We invoke this history not out of nostalgia, but simply to underscore that a generic, mixed-use, walkable-livable neighborhood solution is not enough to resolve the specific needs, challenges and (most importantly) possibilities of Niagara Falls.

PAU was engaged by USA Niagara Development Corporation (USAN), a subsidiary of Empire State Development, to develop a strategy for 25 parcels, grouped into five clusters, that the State had recently acquired in the heart of Downtown Niagara Falls. Like the dual nature of the falls, our approach is one of utopian pragmatism. It will harness the electric lyricism that underwrote the city’s history, inspiring previous generations to dream ever bigger, and the dynamic potential that comes with being the geographic fulcrum between Buffalo and Toronto: a burgeoning region of over 10 million people, while acknowledging the real challenges that the city faces with unemployment, poverty, vacancy and stagnant rents. Our recommendations were founded in market analysis and economic research and built on numerous previous studies, delivering both short-term site strategies and a long-term plan for the sites, to be pursued under more favorable economic conditions.  As part of the framework’s short-term solutions to activate this region, PAU incorporated a Heritage Path, which will highlight key physical landmarks throughout the city that helps visitors and locals rediscover the extraordinary history of the community. The checkpoints along the Heritage Path will double as outdoor space for programs that provide more opportunities for year-round activities. Not only will the Heritage Path connect historical landmarks with the state park, but it will allow visitors to navigate Downtown Niagara Falls in a 30-minute loop.  The Heritage Path will remain as the long-term projects are phased in which may include new community, residential, hotel, retail, and office uses.

By honoring the region’s land and staying true to the area’s rich history, the strategy leverages what’s best about Niagara, bringing it to life through unique design solutions that tap into the city’s heritage. By creating an activated downtown, Niagara hopes to reverse rustbelt demographic trends, retaining its existing population while attracting new residents through programming that highlights the city’s beautiful landscape and its history. Downtown Niagara Falls has the chance to be a leader among its peers, defining the future of the small, post-industrial American City.