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Cuomo launches development competition to revitalize downtown Niagara Falls

by jmaloni


Fri, Oct 4th 2013 04:10 pm

Buffalo Billion will support competition and development projects to boost tourism in Niagara Falls

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday the state and the City of Niagara Falls will partner to launch the Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge, a major competition to select a team of world-class designers, developers and operators to envision and develop signature projects in the downtown area that will attract significant private sector investment and accelerate the revitalization of Niagara Falls. The goal of the competition is to transform downtown Niagara Falls into the ultimate tourist destination to attract and retain visitors from around the world, by building and enhancing the amenities and attractions available in the area.

"With the launch of this competition, we are challenging talented designers and developers to dream up and propose grand ideas to transform the downtown Niagara Falls area into a premier destination that will attract tourists and fuel private investment," Cuomo said. "This competition is a real opportunity for champions in the development and investment industries to face off right here in the Falls, with the best ideas to be turned into reality. We are looking for creative and innovative projects that will spur private development and, at the end of day, entice visitors to the area so that they will stay longer and spend more in the community. So while this competition is just beginning, we already know who the winners are - and that is the people of Western New York."

City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "This is an innovative competition to generate progress in Niagara Falls. The governor's contest will match concept against concept with the best projects winning. Recently we have seen a genuine interest in investing in downtown Niagara Falls. This transformative commitment of $40 million will jumpstart the additional private development needed to create an exciting, family-friendly Niagara Falls experience."

Currently, Niagara Falls attracts 8 million visitors annually - more than most U.S. national parks and nearly double the draw of the Grand Canyon - but overnight stays and visitor spending is less in the region. This loss in revenue can be traced to the limited number and quality of amenities in the Niagara Falls area, which hamper the region's ability to fully capitalize on the millions of visits to the region.

The Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge will address this need by creating a compelling plan to drive tourism growth and spur development of improved tourist amenities and more innovative programming and attractions. The competition is aimed at development that will entice tourists to stay longer and spend more while experiencing the natural, cultural, heritage, architectural and retail opportunities available throughout the region, in addition to the natural wonder of Niagara Falls.

A $40 million fund will support the cost of the competition and incentives for development. The fund will consist of $4 million per year from the City of Niagara Falls casino revenue funds matched by $4 million per year from the state's Buffalo Billion investment for five years. Major private investment can be supported by the fund if it leverages public resources; creates significant downtown development, tourist amenities or destination attractions in the downtown area; and is consistent with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council's Buffalo Billion investment plan, the city's comprehensive plan and USA Niagara Development Corp. design standards.

The competition selection committee will be a partnership between the state and city. The members of the committee will be announced at a later date. The committee will be supported by Empire State Development and its subsidiary, USA Niagara, to design the competition, develop a request for proposal, and ultimately negotiate final deals and contracts for each award.

In December, the committee will announce the release of the RFP to design and develop tourism-related amenities and destinations for the competition with responses due in January. The committee will select the best design-development bids and announce the winners shortly thereafter.

This announcement is the latest in a series of economic development initiatives that Cuomo has prioritized in Niagara Falls including:

  • Brokering an agreement for the formerly stalled hotel development project by the Hamister Group Inc.;
  • Saving the Maid of the Mist scenic boat excursions from shutting down;
  • Investing $25 million in recent and planned upgrades in Niagara Falls State Park;
  • Redeveloping the vacant Rainbow Centre Mall for mixed-use;
  • Transforming the Robert Moses Parkway to create an at-grade, low-speed parkway that will reconnect downtown with the falls and create opportunities for tourists and residents to enjoy the river;
  • Developing an upscale hotel with the Fallside Hotel renovation project; and
  • Supporting future proposed hotel renovation projects to bring more than 500 high-quality rooms to Niagara Falls.

"Competition igniting progress - that's the concept here," Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy said. "In addition to the millions of dollars as a prize for the best ideas, this initiative will give businesses in the region a chance at shaping the look and feel of Niagara Falls for years to come. I applaud the governor for yet another inventive plan that will spur economic development here in Western New York, and look forward to seeing the growth derived from this competition."

Howard A. Zemsky, Western New York Regional Economic Development Council co-chair and Larkin Development Group managing partner, said, "Tourism is one of the key focus areas of the Buffalo Billion plan. This competition will generate new development, which builds on the success that Gov. Cuomo has realized with the Niagara Falls State Park improvements and the Maid of the Mist agreement."

Dr. Satish K. Tripathi, Western New York Regional Economic Development Council co-chair and president of the University at Buffalo, said, "The Buffalo Billion is designed to invest in the future to create new opportunities that will have a lasting positive effect on Western New York. This competition will create a synergy of ideas that can become reality through the use of funds from the Buffalo Billion initiative. The WNYREDC looks forward to being a part of this unique approach to finding innovative solutions for the revitalization of Niagara Falls by encouraging tourists to extend their stay and enjoy the new family oriented attractions."

State Sen. George Maziarz said, "Who has the multimillion dollar idea(s) that will be victorious in this competition? With the future of Niagara Falls at stake, we are asking that the best and the brightest champions of business step up as New York state signals the beginning of a race to a brighter future for residents and tourists of Niagara Falls. We must build on the momentum that has been created by Gov. Cuomo's transformative investments in the Maid of the Mist and improvements to our one-of-a-kind state park."

Assemblyman John Ceretto said, "The race is on for a fierce competition to create the Niagara Falls of our dreams. Gov. Cuomo has given us this opportunity to set the stage for future private development with this unique challenge. I am asking developers, business people and marketing geniuses to go for the gold - this is your chance to make our city shine."

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