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(Map courtesy of Empire State Development)
(Map courtesy of Empire State Development)

USAN announces downtown Niagara Falls development strategy

Fri, Jun 18th 2021 07:55 am

Read development strategy executive summary HERE

USA Niagara Development Corp. (USAN) on Thursday released its strategy for the redevelopment of several state-owned properties in downtown Niagara Falls acquired through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The strategy recommends a range of intermediate steps and attainable site development guidelines for “reimagining a vibrant downtown, while building momentum for sustainable and dynamic long-term development.” 

The recommendations also “clearly incorporate and connect to the history, community and culture of downtown Niagara Falls.”

USAN retained Practice for Architecture and Urbanism to develop the strategy. Read the downtown Niagara Falls development strategy executive summary here.

“We recognize that growth and development in downtown Niagara Falls has to occur organically,” USAN President Anthony Vilardo said. “This strategy lays out a pragmatic and incremental approach, starting with flexible interim uses that will bring people downtown to eat, play and work. At the same time, we will work to gradually foster thoughtful developments to meet growing demand. Even with a phased approach we will not be precluded from reviewing and working with the development community on long-term solutions. These are prime locations in the heart of Niagara Falls that provide easy access to our parks, existing businesses, and surrounding areas. For the projects, the potential of these sites is enormous.”

City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “With the focus of projects like the downtown Niagara Falls development strategy, the revitalization of Niagara Falls feels much more achievable. The support and effort of Gov. Cuomo and the state continues to rally the drive within the community towards new growth and development opportunities within the downtown section of the city. We are pleased that the intent of this plan ties the city’s past to its future.”

The development strategy addresses the broader context of downtown and nearby destinations, including Niagara Falls State Park, but specifically focuses on 25 properties USAN acquired in March 2019 as well as additional city-owned parking lots.

The process began with an analysis of both historic and current conditions, followed by a study of the local needs of the city and its citizens. In addition, between December 2019 and April 2020, USAN conducted a range of outreach activities to gather input on the redevelopment of downtown Niagara Falls, capturing the opinions of more than 1,400 individuals. Outreach included stakeholder interviews, a conversation with Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association members, drop-in sessions at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and Power City Eatery, door-to-door outreach to downtown businesses and an online survey. The strategy was also informed by a study of the local, regional and national market.

A press release stated, “The strategy is a first step in New York state and USAN’s process to bring these dormant sites back to productive use so they can increase the city’s tax base and contribute to a downtown that is enjoyed by visitors and residents. The strategy will be a guide for USAN as they work with other public agencies and private sector partners to design and construct successful projects.”

The 153-page development strategy is divided into several sections, identifying assets, challenges and opportunities. The strategy provides a proposed action plan for building three types of developments, including:

•Heritage Path. The proposed strategy calls for a new “Heritage Path,” helping visitors to navigate downtown Niagara Falls while they learn about its history. The proposed route connects a network of checkpoints throughout downtown, explaining the city’s varied and dynamic past.

•Low-Cost Interim Uses. The strategy lays out potential shorter-term uses and proposals for the sites that would enhance street life, support cultural production and build market demand while longer-term site development and projects are considered. Examples include pop-up retail, mural/art pieces, concerts/outdoor movies, and landscape/recreation. These interim programs would take place along the “Heritage Path” to activate the acquired properties, promote new foot traffic, and build the momentum necessary for more extensive development.

•Permanent Mixed-Use Developments. The strategy proposes a series of mixed-use infill developments. These context-sensitive developments will support new year-round activity in downtown and will happen over time as market conditions evolve.

The development strategy classifies the sites into clusters and analyzes them to propose both near-term suggestions for activation and longer-term future development scenarios involving higher capital expenditures. View a map of the sites here.

Recommendations for the five sites include:

√ Site 1 – Park View. Its interim strategy proposes luxury campsites for glamping, while development strategy options include an independent hotel or townhomes.

√ Site 2 – Gorge Gateway. Its interim strategy proposes temporary landscaping to add recreation features and a “Heritage Path” checkpoint, while development strategy options include a public access lodge and park or a private lodge and park.

√ Site 3 – The Canal. Its interim strategy proposes landscaping and the “Heritage Path’s” power and industry checkpoint, while its development strategy is a mixed-use block with hotel, retail/food and residential components centered around a plaza that interprets the historic hydraulic canal that once ran through the site.

√ Site 4 – Old Falls. Its interim strategy proposes landscaping, a green wall, pop-up businesses and the urban renewal checkpoint, while its development strategy option includes hotels, retail/dining and residential.

√ Site 5 – Upper Rapids – 101 Buffalo Ave. Its interim strategy proposes a checkpoint focused on the history of human settlement in Niagara Falls, while its development strategy is heritage inn-type lodging. At 305 Buffalo Ave., the interim strategy proposes a heritage checkpoint and observation platform, while its development strategy is a hotel and brewery/event space or hotel and low-rise attached vacation rentals.

The press release said, “It is important to note that the development strategy is not a final plan that determines the uses of USAN and city-owned sites. This development strategy will be used as a guide for future developments and infrastructure projects, but other opportunities not included as part of the strategy may be viable if they comply with the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning requirements.”

USAN also announced that it is piloting the use of a new smartphone app called Instant Input to share information about sites and gather community input. Instant Input will allow USAN to be in ongoing conversation with the public about its sites. Community members can download the free app to their smartphone device at the Google Play store or Apple App Store to see pictures, get updates on development, and answer surveys about USAN sites.

USAN, a subsidiary of Empire State Development Corp., is solely dedicated to the support and promotion of economic development initiatives in Niagara Falls by leveraging private investment and encouraging growth and renewal of the tourism industry in the City of Niagara Falls. More information is available here.

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