Niagara Falls State Park will be getting an upgrade to one of its centerpiece facilities.
The current Orin Lehman Visitor’s Center, built in 1985, will be demolished to make way for a new multi-million dollar state of the art welcome center. New York Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid says as the Falls is seeing an uptick in guests and renovations to other areas of the park, it was time for the welcome center to become something more.
“Travelers have expectations when they visit a destination, especially a destination as iconic is Niagara Falls State Park,’ Kulleseid said. “We want people to experience a sense of arrival, a sense of majesty when they arrive at this park. People expect conveniences, but they also expect an orientation to their surroundings. They want to know more about the place they're about to experience.”
As part of that effort, NYS Parks Regional Manager Mark Mistretta said the center will incorporate exhibits to put Niagara Falls into historical context.
“It's going to guide visitors to not only information about the park, but certainly the entire region, all the elements. So the idea here again is to inform people, entice them to go out in the community and stay longer, and that's the key part of this,” said Mistretta. “Of course the building will have information, basic food, beverage, comfort facilities, and certainly ticketing. But most importantly, it's about the stories.”
Those stories include traditional ones from the indigenous Tuscarora and Seneca (who the state has partnered with to design certain elements), and Niagara Falls’ deep connection to the Underground Railroad. Leaders say ultimately the new 28,000 square foot building will blend better to the landscape and be eco-friendly in terms of sustainability.
As part of a broader $100 million pledge to Western New York parks and trails, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has promised to fund $8 million of the projected $46 million welcome center.
State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said these types of public-private partnerships are what can take public attractions to the next level.
“Whenever I go to other parts of the country, whether it's theatres, whether it's the arts, whether it's culture, very often there is private, not-for-profit, dollars that are involved in these projects,” said Ortt. “And it's one thing that across the years, I always felt growing up in Western New York we needed more of. The Ralph C. Wilson Foundation really fills that critical need I think, where you have some of that private money coming in to help get public projects across the finish line.”
Leaders hope the new welcome center will be open to visitors by 2023.