Let’s Talk Cultural District [Guest view by Dan Davis]

First of all, we should know the background behind the proposed Cultural District. Following is a condensed version of a Memorandum of Understanding between New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, The City of Niagara Falls, NYS Department of Transportation, and USA Niagara:

THIS MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING (“MOU”), effective MAY 03 2006 by and between the City of Niagara Falls, New York (“City”), the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation (“OPRHP”), NYS Department of Transportation (“DOT”), and the USA Niagara Development Corporation (“USAN”) is hereby entered into with regard to the improvement of downtown Niagara Falls transportation infrastructure.

This MOU is meant to formalize a series of discussions among the aforementioned agencies (hereinafter the “Stakeholders”) culminating in January 2006, which reflect specific policy and programmatic intent between them. The statements contained herein are expected to serve as a basis for moving various transportation proposals into and through scoping and design in anticipation of subsequent construction funding decisions. The intent is to advance required planning and design phases to allow for the implementation of specific downtown Niagara Falls transportation initiatives related to both current City/State economic development strategies and the overall enhancement of existing regional tourism assets. However, the intent to proceed with analysis and/or design of various proposals does not pre-suppose agreement among the Stakeholder agencies on final design recommendations and/or final funding strategies.

Therefore, in order to facilitate and expedite the transportation initiatives in accordance with the foregoing, the parties intend to undertake and cooperatively accomplish the following:


  1. While the Expanded Project Proposal (EPP) for RMP-N will consider all reasonable alternatives for undertaking a reconfiguration, it shall include the following parameters in the development and evaluation of alternatives:
  1. The RMP-N EPP study area to be evaluated shall:
  1. Connect logical termini, for example, between downtown Niagara Falls and another major transportation facility/geographic point (e.g., NYS Route 104, Queenston Lewiston Bridge, Robert Moses Power Plant, etc.). and be of sufficient length to address environmental matters on a broad scope (although the project could be implemented/constructed in phases – see Item 10);
  2. Permit the independent be usable additional made); and formulation of alternatives that would have utility from other portions of the RMP (i.e., and a reasonable expenditure even if no transportation improvements in the area are made) ; and
  3. Not restrict consideration of alternatives for other reasonably foreseeable transportation improvements (i.e., on the RMP or other interconnected roadways)
  1. That the process be coordinated and related to the planning and implementation of a “Niagara Greenway”, a proposed continuous. greenway between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, for which initial master planning phases are being undertaken.
  2. That the range of alternatives considered shall involve features including, but not limited to:
  1. Restoration/re-naturalization of areas where RMP-N highway features are removed;
  2. Preservation and/or replacement of equivalent facilities, of continuous bikeway access along the Gorge;
  3. Restoration/enhancement of areas/connections between the Aquarium of Niagara and the Gorge Discovery Center, along with other interpretive features such as the Hydraulic Canal right-of-way/Adams Generating Station site (see also Item 11 below); and
  4. For one or more of the alternatives, preservation/creation of limited internal park access among OPRHP features along the Gorge (e.g., Gorge Discovery Center, Whirlpool State Park, Devil’s Hole, etc.).

10. The parties expect that there will be a phased construction approach to completing RMP-N Reconfiguration, and that the EPP Recommendations shall result in the identification of an overall plan, as well as a “Phase I” Project, which could be immediately advanced to subsequent design approval phases and pursuit of funding with agreement by the parties.

11. As part of the required transportation, planning, and environmental analyses, the economic development components of the RMP-N EPP Scope of Work shall provide for the development of an integrated “Cultural District Plan” comprised of a master design plan, management and operations guidelines, and cost recovery, phasing, and implementation strategies. These efforts shall focus on techniques to maximize the cultural and economic benefits of a RMP-N reconfiguration in portions of downtown Niagara Falls adjoining the Niagara Falls State Park, north of Niagara Street and Main Street.

12. The parties shall cooperate in a partnership arrangement as necessary to undertake appropriate reconfiguration of RMP-N including access and park enhancements in implementing the “Cultural District” as a destination area within Niagara Falls as proposed.



As part of the process and in keeping with this MOU, beginning in September of 2009 a scoping study was performed on the North Section of the Robert Moses Parkway. Some statements from the Scoping Report are included:


4.2 Social

The area to the west of the RMP contains developed parks, natural landscape and the face of the Niagara River Gorge. The area along the east side of the RMP consists of mixed use residential and commercial properties at the southern end of the project, residential neighborhoods along the center portion of the study area and a more suburban type environment along the northern portion of the project. One of the City’s Comprehensive Plan’s Core City Strategies is reconnecting the City with the waterfront, which includes the adjacent communities and business districts. The current separation is primarily due to the type of transportation facility (parkway) that currently exists. With the exception of the no-build alternative, each alternative will involve removing various portions of the RMP, establishing additional connections with the City and providing way-finding signage to direct visitors and motorists into the City. Another Core City Strategy is the creation of a Cultural District. The Cultural District encompasses the area bounded by Cedar Street, Third Street, Main Street and the Niagara River. This area currently contains a portion of the RMP, the Niagara Aquarium site, the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and underutilized properties along Main and Third Streets. This district is envisioned as a remarkable destination landscape set on the plateau above the Niagara Gorge that will contain a range of high-quality, family-oriented educational and cultural venues and attractions that will dramatically strengthen the tourism offering of the Core City while complementing the State Park lands along the Gorge (City of Niagara Falls Comprehensive Plan, 2009). Both Alternatives 3 and 6 remove the RMP between the Discovery Center and the Aquarium to create the open plateau that the Cultural District calls for. These alternatives provide the most opportunity for the City to create the district. However, land ownership will need to be studied in the preliminary design since the majority of the land, including the Discovery Center and existing RMP is owned by the New York State Power Authority, see Figure 2-19. Alternative 4 provides a park road between the Discovery Center and the Aquarium connecting at Cedar Avenue. This alternative does not allow for the open plateau concept between these two facilities. Effects of the park road through the proposed Cultural District will need to be studied during the preliminary design.




We know the Cultural District has been a key element in the city’s Urban Planning for quite some time. In fact, it goes back the “City in a Park” concept and has been seen as a key to the city’s future since the 2004 Strategic Master Plan. So, WHY are the principals of the MOU, the Niagara Falls Gazette, and the Citizens of the City of Niagara Falls not talking about it?


This district is envisioned as a remarkable destination landscape set on the plateau above the Niagara Gorge that will contain a range of high-quality, family-oriented educational and cultural venues and attractions that will dramatically strengthen the tourism offering of the Core City”



[By Dan Davis]


(The preceding article is a guest submission for NiagaraHub.com. The content or opinion expressed within does not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of NiagaraHub.com. Readers are encouraged to submit articles and videos, but NiagaraHub.com expresses the right to approve or disapprove each submission. Each submission will be posted as is.)


  1. Anonymous says:

    No one is talking about it because there hasn’t been movement on the removal of the parkway in that area. There are no apparent investors looking to buy property in that area to build the things spoken of in the plan. No public funds have been allocated to realize any of these plans for a cultural district. No one believes these government entities will follow through and frankly these entities doing the planning have little ability to actually execute the plan. So why talk about it? I’m saying this as someone who would like to see it as much as Dan Davis and as someone who would personally benefit by it more than most yet I find little reason to hope or care so long as the city and state continue to retain and expand policies that are at best disincentives to investment and at worst outright hostile to business.

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