Niagara Gazette — About 14 percent of the city's buildings are vacant. At the same time, 18 percent of families live in poverty, compared to 11 percent statewide, according to a 2012 profile by the state comptroller's office. The median household income was $31,452 in 2010, below the $37,600 median for all cities and the state median of $55,600.
"You have to try to overcome the blight with coolness," Dyster said.
An innovative program in April chose its first five "urban pioneers," recent college graduates who have committed to live in the city for two years in exchange for financial help paying off student debt.
The efforts dovetail with a commitment to tourism that has helped ignite investment near the state park, which attracts 8 million visitors annually. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 pledged $1 billion to the economic development of Western New York, a regional council put tourism in the top three industries in which to invest.
A half dozen projects representing $100 million in investments are in front of Christopher Schoepflin, president of the USA Niagara Development Corp., including plans to build or upgrade several hotels.
"Investors, certain developers that maybe five years ago weren't responding to requests for proposals, weren't talking to us or weren't buying properties are doing all of the above right now," he said. "So I think that has signaled the next phase and the transition from beginning of a redevelopment to perhaps the middle of one."
There have been less conventional efforts to attract attention, too. Last year, city leaders made an exception to strict no-stunting policies to let daredevil Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls on national television.
A year earlier, the city celebrated the state's first same-sex marriage with a much-publicized midnight ceremony and rolled out the welcome mat for other same-sex couples.