NIAGARA FALLS – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the design for a new, $46 million state-of-the-art visitor center in Niagara Falls State Park. The new facility will be a gateway to the Niagara River Corridor, aimed at improving the visitor experience, complementing nature, increasing the length of visits within the park in all four seasons, and enhancing awareness of nearby recreational and cultural offerings.
The Governor also announced that the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has committed $8 million in grant funding toward the construction of the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is a signature project of Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 100 initiative announced in this year’s State of the State proposals.
“New York is home to some of the nation’s greatest parks and outdoor recreational opportunities that attract visitors from all across the globe, and Niagara Falls State Park is no exception,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new visitor center continues the stunning transformation of New York’s most famous and most visited state park, welcoming the millions of tourists who visit each year while highlighting the unique history and beauty of the park and the entire Western New York community.”
The new facility would provide expanded space for peak-time visiting and include areas for ticketing, interpretation, dining and retail operations. The building will replace a 35-year-old structure that is no longer capable of hosting the 9 million visitors a year the park receives.
“Niagara Falls is a wonder of the world unique to Western New York,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “With a rich legacy as the oldest state park in the United States, New York continues to invest in this landmark gem to bolster regional tourism, economic recovery and showcase this awe-inspiring attraction for future generations.”
The new 28,000-square-foot visitor center will include new ticketing and information desks, interpretive museum space including an immersive experience and exhibits highlighting a diversity of topics including natural, industrial and Indigenous American history; new concession spaces; restrooms and associated support spaces. The glass, steel and concrete facility has been designed to complement nature and include a rooftop solar array, green roof elements and a separate restroom building. Enhanced site amenities include new accessible paths; plantings; outdoor exhibits, and interpretive and wayfinding elements. The existing 7,000-square-foot regional administration building immediately adjacent to the facility will be adapted to include a multi-purpose community room, regional archives and offices for Niagara regional interpretive staff.
The $8 million grant from the not-for-profit Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, created after the 2014 death of Wilson, the former owner of the Buffalo Bills and a co-founder of the American Football League, continues Ralph Wilson’s remarkable legacy of support for tourism, parks and outdoor recreation, trail development, and community revitalization in Western New York.
The visitor center is a signature project in the Governor’s NY Parks 100 initiative, which renews the historic commitment to investing and expanding the State park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years.
The building is being designed by GWWO, a national leader in visitor center development. Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 and wrap up in time for the 2023 tourism season.
State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Niagara Falls is New York’s very own Wonder of the World, and it should reflect that grandeur to people from all walks, internationally, nationally and locally. This project will not only serve to welcome, orient and educate visitors to the park, it will serve as a jumping off point to many other regional attractions – which will mean longer visitor stays and more opportunities for all of our tourism partners.”
President & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation David O. Egner said, “A new and reimagined Niagara Falls State Park Welcome Center along the Shoreline Trail has tremendous potential to strengthen the area’s growing tourism economy, creating more jobs and enhancing the quality of life for area residents. The $8 million grant for this project also builds upon the Foundation’s broader efforts to catalyze economic development in Western New York and improve access and connections to public spaces and trails throughout the region. We look forward to the future Welcome Center being a world-class destination the residents of New York and the region can be proud of when it welcomes an estimated 9 million visitors annually from across the world.”
Senator Rob Ortt said, “The Niagara Falls State park is a one of a kind asset to Niagara County, the Buffalo Niagara region and the State of New York. The announcement of a new state-of-the-art visitor center will greatly enhance this already treasured attraction, improve the experience for the millions of annual visitors and bring additional interest to the park and surrounding community,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt. “I am grateful to the Ralph C. Wilson foundation for partnering with the State of New York to provide substantial new investment to the park and the City of Niagara Falls.”
Assembly Member Angelo Morinello said, “Thank you to Governor Cuomo for his continued focus and financial contribution in the City of Niagara Falls and the world class attraction that the Niagara Falls State Park is. This new visitor center will add to the overall visitor experience, allowing them to learn more about the region and spend more time in Niagara Falls. This investment serves to compliment the already over $150 million that has been invested here as we continue to rebuild this global attraction.”
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “As the oldest state park in the United States, and most famous park in New York State, I am thrilled at the opportunity with this innovative improvement. Knowing that our City plays host to over 9 million visitors each year and is the tourism catalyst for Western New York, we are excited for the opportunity to better accommodate the needs of tourists during their stay with us. By presenting visitors with a state-of-the-art welcome center with the help of New York State and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, we anticipate continued investment in our community and further allowing us to bolster economic growth within Niagara Falls.”
Photo Credits: WNYO Staff Photography.