Niagara Gazette

May 15, 2014

UB grad students present ideas for section of city's North End

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Architecture and urban planning students from the University at Buffalo shared their vision for a section of the city’s North End with the Niagara Falls Planning Board Wednesday night.

The graduate students from the school’s Urban Design Project shared their planning recommendations — the culmination of a semester-long project — with the board and a crowd of about 20 people in city council chambers during the planning board meeting.

Professor Hiro Hata led the team of students as they examined the area of the Falls from the gorge rim to Main Street and from the Rainbow Bridge plaza to the Whirlpool Bridge, contemplating the planned removal of the Robert Moses Parkway and how the city might reconnect that section of the city to the river and gorge.

Hata said his students identified connecting the Main Street corridor back to the park land along the gorge as the main goal for planning changes the city might implement.

The removal of the parkway sets the stage for those changes, he said.

“That, to us, is a very huge opportunity for the city to seize and bring both restoration of nature as well as many, many other benefits,” he said.

Reconnecting the city to the gorge will both improve quality of life for residents and spur investment from private interests, according to Hata.

“There is a reciprocity between the city and nature in the form of the gorge,” he said.

Students worked closely with the city’s planning office to compile its report, poring over data, maps and planned developments over the course of the semester.

The group is even in the process of constructing a model “about the size of a grand piano” which will eventually be donated to the city, Hata said.

The report identified a long list of planning approaches the city might take to achieve the goals set forth including:

• Implementing a trolley system to run the length of the area the students examined and back and forth on cross streets from the gorge to Main Street. The report also recommended that the trolley system be coordinated with Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus schedules.

• Implementing height controls along the gorge to prevent buildings from blocking views.

• New hotel and residential development surrounding the planned Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center next to the Whirlpool Bridge.

• Further development in the area surrounding the Aquarium of Niagara which state and city officials are now calling the “cultural district.” The report suggested that the long-discussed Niagara Falls Experience Center could be built just north of the Rainbow Bridge plaza, that the aquarium be expanded and that the area to the east be developed commercially.

• Streetscape improvements on side streets running between Whirlpool and Main streets to promote movement between the thoroughfares.

* Placing pedestrian walkways and skating rinks in the footprint of demolished buildings and the former hydraulic canal that once fed the power plants along the gorge.

After the report is finalized it will be shared with the city and made available on the Urban Design Project website.

Tom DeSantis, the city’s senior planner, said that the students recommendations gave his department, the planning board and citizens plenty to think about in the coming years.

“I hope that what comes out of this is a sense of new possibilities,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that with so many developments happening in the city it is important that citizens and politicians begin to consider the changes that are on their way.

“Things are changing,” DeSantis said. “We need to get it right.”

Robert Shibley, the dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, was on hand for the student presentation.

The students did a good job of creating a plan to open the flow back and forth between the gorge and the city, he said after the meeting.

“Any good tourist attraction has got to be also good for the citizens,” Shibley said. “Any good citizen engagement is going to be, almost as a matter of course, good for the tourists. So you’ve got a lovely combination and I think that’s the strength of their proposal.”

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257