Dec 22, 2022
Aquarium of Niagara to Start Construction on Great Lakes 360 at Shuttered Niagara Gorge Museum; Progress on Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways Project Advances
Both Projects Will Help Reconnect the People of Niagara Falls to the Waterways That Define the City's Identity
Governor Kathy Hochul today announced two transformative projects in Niagara Falls that will attract new residents, visitors and development to the downtown and help reconnect the people of Niagara Falls to the waterways that define the City's identity. The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways project, which is comprised of five public gateway features intended to stimulate reinvestment in Niagara Falls, will move forward. In addition, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has approved an agreement authorizing the Aquarium of Niagara to manage operations at the currently closed Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Construction will now start on transforming the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center into Great Lakes 360 — an exciting new space for Great Lakes-focused exhibits.
"We are forging a new path forward for Niagara Falls — making targeted investments that will help draw tourists and transform the community," Governor Hochul said. "The Niagara Heritage Gateway Project and Great Lakes 360 will bring exciting new developments to the city's downtown, attracting new visitors, stimulating the local economy and making the community an even better place to live."
Niagara Falls Heritage Gateway Project
The $12 million Niagara Falls Heritage Gateway Project focuses on the northern and southern ends of a proposed "Downtown Niagara Falls Heritage Path," which aims to expand activities downtown while strengthening the connections between downtown Niagara Falls and Niagara Falls State Park. New York-based firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), who spearheaded the development of a conceptual development strategy for the downtown area in 2021, has been selected to lead the design. Conceptual renderings can be found here.
The scope of the Gateways Project will include:
- Reinterpreting a stretch of the historic Niagara Falls Power Company's hydraulic canal as an engaging public plaza that illustrates the history of large-scale electricity production and its effects on the American society in its design.
- Constructing an observation deck along the border of Niagara Falls State Park, accessible from Buffalo Avenue and linked via stairway to the park itself, with panoramic views of the American Rapids and Goat Island. The design will preserve existing tree coverage and provide opportunities for outdoor seating.
- Transforming DiFranco Park into a multi-use pavilion for outdoor performances, recreation and public gathering spaces, in partnership with the City of Niagara Falls.
- Creating a pocket park at the corner of Buffalo Avenue and 1st Street that will provide respite and activate the streetscape.
- Establishing an interpretive park at the Cataract House Hotel historic site to tell the story of the Underground Railroad and how African American hotel staff played a prominent role in helping freedom seekers escape to Canada.
Throughout 2020 and 2021 the USA Niagara Development Corporation — an Empire State Development subsidiary — and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) devised a strategy for the redevelopment of several vacant or underutilized properties in Niagara Falls, which had been acquired in 2018 as part of a strategic land-acquisition program funded through New York State. The "Downtown Niagara Falls Development Strategy" illustrates a range of interim interventions and attainable development guidelines to re-imagine a vibrant downtown in the near-term while building momentum and continuing to promote sustainable dynamic growth and development over time. The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways project stems from this strategy and includes several of the interim interventions recommended to activate parcels ahead of private-sector development.
The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways project is funded by the state with $10 million through Buffalo Billion II and $2 million through the Regional Revitalization Partnership. Build out of the project is expected in 2024.
Niagara Gorge Discovery Center Project
The $5 million Great Lakes 360 project will be a living museum that highlights the notable wildlife of the Niagara River and the larger Great Lakes ecosystem while celebrating the area's unique geological history. The project's focus on accessible exhibit design will transform the building into a one-stop destination where visitors of all ages and abilities can experience the ecological story of the region all year round. The completed project will increase the number of living exhibits at the Aquarium by 40 percent. See renderings here.
The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, also known as the Schoellkopf Geological Museum, is positioned at the precipice of the Niagara Gorge and situated just 500 feet southwest of the Aquarium's main building. Under the agreement with NY Parks, the Aquarium will renovate the vacant building, creating new space for Great Lakes-focused exhibits aptly situated along the new greenspace created through the recently completed removal of the former Robert Moses Parkway.
Great Lakes 360 is fully funded following a recently announced $1 million capital grant through Market NY and a previously announced $675,000 ESD grant. Other supporters include the East Hill Foundation, Grigg Lewis Foundation, John R. Oishei Foundation, KeyBank and First Niagara Foundation, M&T Charitable Foundation, Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, National Grid, Niagara County IDA, Niagara River Greenway in partnership with the City of Niagara Falls, and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds. The project builds upon more than $10 million in capital improvements the Aquarium has made since 2018 and demonstrates the Aquarium's commitment to enhancing the visitor experience through dynamic and engaging attractions.
This partnership between New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Aquarium of Niagara expands the Aquarium's geographic footprint and opens the opportunity for the Aquarium to develop a campus-like presence in downtown Niagara Falls. The opening of a new indoor, year-round attraction in this location also creates critical mass in a developing area of the Niagara Falls State Park.
The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center opened in 1971 under management of New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Located at the site of one of the first hydroelectric power plants in the United States, the seasonal attraction showcased the natural history of the Falls and the Niagara Gorge. It has been closed to the public since October 2020. The new partnership between New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and the Aquarium of Niagara will breathe new life into the space in a way that celebrates the natural history of its location and motivates more than 200,000 annual visitors to protect the region's rich resources for generations to come.
Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight said, "The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways Project is a first step in New York State's strategy for bringing long-dormant sites, now controlled by the State, back to productive use. This will both increase the city's tax base and contribute to a re-emerging vibrant downtown that is a draw for visitors and residents."
New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "State Parks is proud to partner with the Aquarium of Niagara to repurpose this unique facility. It is perfectly suited to tell the story of the Great Lakes and will complement the main facility while providing another option for year-round recreation in Niagara Falls."
Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said, "Thank you Governor Hochul for continuing projects focused on Niagara Falls continuing its journey as a world class tourist destination. Our city and region are focused on green attractions combining our natural wonder, the Falls, with ecotourism attractions that highlight nature's wonders that surround us."
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, "Niagara Falls continues to captivate visitors and locals with its power and beauty. The creation of the Heritage Gateways will provide more opportunity for enjoyment of our natural wonder and bring additional venues for entertainment to downtown to join the exciting expansion of our Aquarium of Niagara. The commitment of Governor Hochul to lifting our community to advance new development is an exciting opportunity for our City and we appreciate her continued support."
Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) Founder and Creative Director Vishaan Chakrabarti said, "We're thrilled to continue our work with New York State in Niagara Falls with an expanded team including landscape architects Hargreaves Jones. The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways Project is a chance to demonstrate how thoughtful design can restore rather than remake our cities in collaboration with the local community. Public infrastructure is at the center of successful urbanism—we applaud New York State for championing public spaces and architecture that connect us to our narratives, to our environment, and to one another."
Aquarium of Niagara President and CEO Gary Siddall said, "Our vision for the space includes a truly inclusive experience with opportunities for both indoor and outdoor adventures that are accessible to all visitors. Through living habitats and educational programming, guests will experience authentic interactions with animals that inspire them to make a difference for aquatic life. This partnership truly builds upon the Aquarium's strategic goals to enhance the guest experience, situate the Aquarium as a regional asset, and grow our role in aquatic conservation."
East Hill Foundation Executive Director Kenneth Dulian said, "The East Hill Foundation is proud to support the Aquarium of Niagara on its Great Lakes 360 project. The Aquarium has continuously demonstrated its ability to execute on major capital projects that have made a transformational impact on both the organization and the greater community, and Great Lakes 360 will be its most innovative initiative yet. The East Hill Foundation is excited to partner with the Aquarium to strengthen the organization's position as a cultural anchor for the Niagara region and beyond."
About the Aquarium of Niagara
The Aquarium of Niagara is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization. With our community and our partners, we celebrate our natural wonders and inspire people to make a difference for aquatic life. We are home to more than 120 different species, including ten rescued and non-releasable marine mammals. The Aquarium is open daily at 9 a.m. year around, except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. For more information visit aquariumofniagara.org.
About Empire State Development
Empire State Development is New York's chief economic development agency. The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing the Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of "I LOVE NY," the State's iconic tourism brand. For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, visit and .
About New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which in 2021 were visited by record 78.4 million people. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.