Niagara Falls is perhaps the most recognizable natural landmark in New York State, where Lake Erie pours forth into Lake Ontario as a trio of cascading waterfalls. While visiting the falls is an experience that borders on the sublime, the city of Niagara Falls itself has experienced quite a few bumpy patches over the last half-century. Long an industrial center fueled by the area’s abundant hydropower, the city, like Buffalo just miles to the south, has suffered from rapid deindustrialization and out-migration. This phenomenon is most pronounced in the city’s downtown area, which, coupled with ill-conceived urban renewal efforts, is currently more asphalt than actual buildings. However, change is possibly on the horizon thanks to a sweeping master plan proposed by the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), in partnership with the State of New York, which promises a wholesale revamp of the area.
The plan is being led by the USA Niagara Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation. Over the last few years, the organization has steadily purchased more than 30 contiguous parcels equalling approximately 16.75 acres across a swath of Downtown Niagara Falls.
As reported by Buffalo News, the plan calls for grouping the parcels into five larger development areas, or clusters, that will be open to proposals from the private sector. Conceptual renderings released by PAU suggest the type of development that the state is hoping for; high-density and mixed-use with a historic material palette. The first request for proposals is taking place this month for what the state has dubbed the Old Falls site, much of which is currently a city-owned parking lot.
Development plans often take years to conceptualize and build, so in the meantime, PAU’s vision also incorporates several short-term strategies. The principal recommendation is the creation of a 1.5-mile ‘Heritage Path’ weaving the city’s historical landmarks with the adjacent state park, which would allow visitors to loop through the downtown area in approximately half an hour. Additionally, PAU proposed the construction of an observation deck within the loop as a new attraction for tourists.
The master plan joins something of a renaissance in this corner of Western New York. Buffalo is undergoing a number of improvements, such as the reimagining of the Buffalo Skyway Corridor and a spate of new waterfront parks, and Niagara Falls itself is also slated to receive a new GWWO-designed Visitor Center. Let’s see what the future holds for the Great Lakes.