Public spaces in an upstate New York city famous for its huge waterfall are slated for a major upgrade courtesy of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU).
This week officials announced the New York City–based firm will lead the design of the Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways Project, an expansive welcome mat for tourists and a signal to businesses that the economically depressed border city is ready for investment. Heritage Gateways aims to better connect downtown Niagara Falls with Niagara Falls State Park, the place where 12 million annual visitors ooh and aah over the 354 million cubic feet of water that spills over the dam every hour.
The most eye-catching component of the development is a spiraling observation deck along the edge of the state park, pictured at top and below, that will showcase panoramic vises of the American Rapids and Goat Island. In addition to a new pocket park at the intersection of Buffalo Avenue and 1st Street, PAU is adding a multipurpose pavilion to nearby DiFranco Park. For those interested in learning about the area’s history, the architects are installing a pedestrian walkway along the Niagara Falls Power Company’s hydraulic canal lined with information on the history of electricity generation and its impact on American society.
The just-announced plans are the latest in PAU’s ongoing partnership with the city’s economic development agency. In 2021 the firm worked with USA Niagara Development Corporation (USAN), a subsidiary of Empire State Development (ESD), on a master plan that uses 25 underutilized, state-owned parcels downtown.
“We’re thrilled to continue our work with New York State in Niagara Falls with an expanded team including landscape architects Hargreaves Jones,” PAU Founder and Creative Director Vishaan Chakrabarti shared in a press release. “The Niagara Falls Heritage Gateways project is a chance to demonstrate how thoughtful design can restore rather than remake our cities. It is by building on a foundation of shared history—instead of trying to reinvent cities from scratch—that we truly strengthen and benefit communities. 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.”
The $12 million development is funded by a $10 million contribution from ESD’s Buffalo Billion II, a $65 million revitalization plan for the Western New York city and its neighbors. The Regional Revitalization Partnership is contributing an additional $2 million to the project. It is expected to be completed in 2024.
“We are forging a new path forward for Niagara Falls—making targeted investments that will help draw tourists and transform the community,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a press release. “The Niagara Heritage Gateway project 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.”
PAU’s plans are complemented by one other major tourism-revitalization project in the city. In addition to the Heritage Gateways project, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has just agreed to allow the Aquarium of Niagara to manage the currently closed Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, an institution that will be converted into Great Lakes 360—an aquatic exhibition space focused on Lake Erie and four other Great Lakes.