We Are NYAnnounces Additional Investments in Niagara Falls

$46 Million State-of-the-Art Welcome Center, Plaza Opens at Niagara Falls State Park Providing Grand Arrival Space for Visitors 

Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and Oakwood Cemetery Receive State Funding for Improvements  

Governor Kathy Hochul today joined elected and community leaders to officially open the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center at Niagara Falls State Park. The $46 million facility will provide modern amenities to the millions of visitors arriving at the park each year and provide information on all that the Niagara Falls area has to offer to visitors. The Governor also announced two additional projects—renovations to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center auditorium and the restoration of historic buildings at Oakwood Cemetery—that will complement the Welcome Center and support the overall goal of improving the visitor experience in Niagara Falls. 

“There is no place in the world like Niagara Falls, and our State park has always been a beacon of natural beauty and historical significance, captivating visitors with its awe-inspiring landscapes and iconic waterfalls,” Governor Hochul said. “Today we unveil our commitment to elevate this state jewel even further as we roll out the welcome mat to welcome the world to our state's natural gem. This new building is a wonderful addition to this already stunning park and will help visitors plan both their visit to the park as well as to the many businesses and attractions the City of Niagara Falls and Western New York has to offer.”

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center at Niagara Falls State Park  

The 28,000-square-foot visitor center features glass walls and a low roof to maximize views and connections to the Falls. It includes new ticketing and information desks; new concession spaces; restrooms and associated support spaces, a rooftop PV array, special patterned glass to prevent bird impacts, green roof elements and a separate restroom building. Enhanced site amenities include new accessible paths; native plantings; and wayfinding elements. The existing 7,000-square-foot regional administration building immediately adjacent to the facility is repurposed to include a multi-use community room, regional archives and offices for Niagara regional interpretive staff. Glass walls and low-profile construction help maximize views of the Falls.

The final phase of the project, to be completed at a later date, will feature interpretive museum space including an immersive experience and exhibits highlighting a diversity of topics including natural, industrial and Indigenous American history, as well as outdoor exhibits and interpretive signage. 

The building was designed by GWWO Architects of Baltimore and built by R.P. Oakhill Building Company of Buffalo. Other contributors to the building include The LiRo Group, Ty Lin, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels, a Fischer Associates Landscape Architecture Studio and exhibit designers Haley Sharpe Design of the UK and Toronto. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation contributed $8 million toward this project and as a result is named in his honor. Wilson was the owner of the Buffalo Bills and a co-founder of the American Football League. 

This project will complement the $150 million revitalization of Niagara Falls State Park landscape. Launched in 2011, the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Revitalization Plan was a multi-year commitment to renew the park in a manner that better reflects noted park designer Frederick Law Olmsted's vision for the landscape. The plan renovated the park's major viewing areas including Luna Island, Prospect Point, Lower Grove, Three Sisters Islands, North Shoreline Trail, Luna Bridge, and Terrapin Point with new pedestrian walkways, enhanced landscaping, new benches, light posts and railings. The interactive Cave of the Winds pavilion, which highlights the natural and cultural history of Niagara Falls, opened in 2017. Removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway (formally the Robert Moses Parkway) in the city of Niagara Falls provides unprecedented access to the Niagara Gorge by connecting the city to its waterfront for the first time in a generation and is the largest expansion of Niagara Falls State Park since the creation of the park.  

Niagara Falls State Park is a state and national treasure. Created in 1885, it is the oldest state park in the nation, attracting over 9 million visitors annually. 

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation grant was managed on behalf of State Parks by the Natural Heritage Trust. The Natural Heritage Trust is a non-profit, public-benefit corporation with the mission to receive and administer gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes of the State of New York. The NHT accomplishes its mission by accepting donations, raising funds, and through cooperative programs and projects with its agency partners: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of State (DOS). For more information visit www.naturalheritagetrust.org.

Niagara Arts and Cultural Center

NACC, located at 1201 Pine Avenue inside the former Niagara Falls High School, will undergo an $8.5 million renovation of its auditorium. The 1,000-seat auditorium will be restored to its original historic grandeur while integrating the equipment, technology, and support spaces needed to transform the theater space into a venue suitable for hosting modern live productions. The restrooms adjacent to the theater will also be renovated. The project is being supported by a $4 million capital grant from the Regional Economic Community Assistance Program, which is managed by Empire State Development.  

The community-focused cultural center is a 501c3 non-profit organization that houses more than 100 artists – including painters, sculptors, ceramicists, educators, woodworkers, photographers, theater companies, dance companies and more – in studios and programmable spaces. It supports artists with collaborative practices, professional careers, and those interested in contributing to Western New York’s creative ecosystem across 180,000 square feet, including three theatres, two public and numerous private galleries, a radio station, public classroom space, the Starry Night Café, and the NACC gift shop. The former Niagara Falls High School building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Oakwood Cemetery

The $2.5 million Oakwood Cemetery project will provide for the restoration and repair of several historic buildings located at the cemetery, which was established before the Civil War, and is one of the largest surviving historic resources in Niagara Falls. The 18-acre site, located at 763 Portage Road, still maintains its original T.D. Judah designed landscape (including five historic structures).  

The project is being supported by a $2.25 million Regional Economic Community Assistance Program grant from Empire State Development and will include new roofs, structural repairs, stonework and painting for the Chapel built in 1877, the magnificent Green & Wicks marble mausoleum built in 1913, and the Stone Office built in 1922. All of the buildings will be used for future heritage tourism and programming in conjunction with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. 

Among those buried at Oakwood, one finds Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to travel over the falls in a barrel, and many families whose names are associated with the growth and development of Niagara Falls as a great industrial city and a world-renowned tourist attraction. The cemetery also includes a memorial to veterans of the Civil War and many outstanding examples of funerary art including obelisks, sarcophagi, and beautiful statuary. Additionally, the landscape is lush with mature plantings and trees, many dating from the earliest time of the cemetery. Oakwood Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “We are so thrilled to finally welcome visitors to this building. We are so proud of it and hope that it helps make visits to Niagara Falls even more memorable. We are confident the building will be a starting point to encourage visitors to explore all there is to do outside of the park, and help strengthen the regional tourism economy.” 

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Hope Knight said, “A collaborative approach to tourism is Governor Hochul’s strategy for economic growth in the City of Niagara Falls. The magnificent waterfalls draw people to the city, but each project that adds to the visitor experience provides an opportunity for tourists to stay longer and bolster the overall business climate. We look forward to seeing tourists start at the park’s new welcome center next to the falls, then head into the city to spend time enjoying a show at the renovated arts center and a tour of the historic cemetery.”

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr Foundation President & CEO David Egner said, “These collective investments are all contributing to the beginning of a transformational moment for the city of Niagara Falls and the Western New York region. From the new and reimagined Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center and significant park improvements to the collaborative investments across the community’s beloved cultural and historical assets, the impact will be felt when the improved visitors’ experience leads to extended stays and spend within the city and region and residents reap the economic benefits and quality of life enhancements that come with more accessible outdoor recreation and an active and walkable downtown corridor.”

State Senator Rob Ortt said, “With the opening of the new welcome center and the continued dedication of resources and redevelopment of Niagara Falls State Park and the surrounding areas, we can ensure Niagara Falls remains a wonderful place to visit for Western New York residents and international travelers. These improvements will continue to make Niagara Falls the economic driver it is for all of Western New York.” 

Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said, “I thank Gov. Hochul for her ongoing support of Niagara Falls. The opening of the Welcome Center and the support of Oakwood and the NACC are wonderful steps toward the continued development of our tourism infrastructure. Millions of people come here each year and these investments will help ensure that they have a memorable visit.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “The opening of this state-of-the-art Welcome Center continues the commitment of NYS to creating an exciting experience in the Nation’s oldest state park. The additional investments in the NACC and Oakwood help to support the mission of our administration to improve City assets for the use and enjoyment of locals and visitors alike. We appreciate Governor Hochul sharing in that vision and thank her for her continued partnership.”

Niagara Falls Tourism and Convention Corp John Percy said, “The highly anticipated opening of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center at Niagara Falls State Park will bring additional global attention to our destination from a media and visitor standpoint. The amenities of the Welcome Center along with the enhancements at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and Oakwood Cemetery are the perfect complement to the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls. We look forward to welcoming both locals and visitors from all over the world to experience all of these offerings in Niagara Falls USA.”

Niagara Arts & Cultural Center Executive Director Kevin Leary said, “Since the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC) was founded, restoring our historic theatre has been an aspiration. The generous investment by Empire State Development – in addition to the investment of the Regional Revitalization Partnership – allows the NACC the opportunity to realize this integral piece of our development. We are grateful for the chance to elevate our ability to serve WNY residents and visitors with high quality, professional performing arts experiences and spearhead revitalization efforts in the Pine Ave. business corridor.”

Oakwood Board of Directors President Judie Glaser said, “Oakwood Cemetery is deeply grateful for this generous funding from New York State. As the guardians of so many neighbors and friends, as well as veterans, city founders, daredevils and others, it is truly exciting to be able to restore and refurbish the historic and beautiful buildings that adorn our grounds. We cannot thank Gov. Hochul and the Niagara Falls Heritage Area enough for spearheading this effort to secure funding to benefit Oakwood and all who rest here.”

Regional Revitalization Partnership

The Regional Revitalization Partnership (RRP) is a $300M comprehensive economic development strategy and public-private partnership that maximizes impact and leverages additional investment for Buffalo’s East Side, Niagara Falls and Rochester. This community-driven, collaborative strategy takes a holistic, inclusive approach to economic development and is designed to build community wealth through multiple paths. The RRP was developed in collaboration with New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and Empire State Development (ESD) and is supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the Farash Foundation, ESL, KeyBank/First Niagara Foundation, M&T Bank and partners in the cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Rochester. 

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 saw a record 79.5 million visits in 2022. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Joins us in celebrating our Centennial throughout 2024, and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the OPRHP Blog