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USAN Board Names the Aquarium of Niagara as Preferred Developer for Key Downtown Parcel

Aquarium reveals plans for expanded exhibit space and inclusive playground

See conceptual drawings here

The USA Niagara Development Corporation (USAN) Board of Directors met today and named the Aquarium of Niagara (AON) as the preferred developer of a key parcel of land in downtown Niagara Falls.  The project will redevelop a multi-lot property located at 535-579 Second Street to include up to 31,000 square feet of programmable space and provide important visitor amenities that serve a full range of needs and interests, creating a robust cultural and educational hub for tourists and residents alike.  See conceptual drawings here.  This project supports Governor Kathy Hochul’s strategy to forge a new path forward for Niagara Falls by making targeted investments that will help draw tourists and transform the community.

“The redevelopment of this property – just one block from Niagara Falls State Park and the Niagara River Gorge – represents a unique opportunity to capitalize upon the continued revitalization of an iconic destination,” said USAN President Anthony Vilardo.  “This project will elevate the status of the aquarium, which is already a resident and visitor favorite, and further add to the abundant tourism opportunities in Niagara Falls.”

“This planned project leverages our momentum and builds upon the Aquarium’s recent growth,” said Aquarium of Niagara President & CEO Gary Siddall.  “The Aquarium is committed to creating new opportunities for visitors to connect to the natural world through quality, enriching experiences that encourage curiosity and inspire delight. This redevelopment project will position the Aquarium as a true quality-of-life asset for our community and a must-do destination for anyone visiting Niagara Falls.”

The Aquarium of Niagara’s proposal includes a phased expansion, the first of which envisions an interactive exhibit space that will house rotating exhibitions, a robust event area, food service and concessions, as well as retail offerings.  The proposed development will also feature a fully inclusive playground, introducing a recreational component that encourages outdoor play for families of all ages and abilities. The project follows more than $15 million in recent capital and exhibit improvements at the Aquarium of Niagara. The expanded footprint would double the Aquarium’s current campus and complement programming at the Aquarium’s main building, community plaza, and the forthcoming Great Lakes 360 project expected to be complete next spring. The expansion is estimated to cost $18 million for both phases.

Now that the Aquarium has been named the preferred developer, USAN and the Aquarium will begin to negotiate the principal terms and conditions of a development agreement.  These terms and conditions, as well as a General Project Plan, will then be presented to the Directors for their approval. 

USAN acquired the property in March 2019 through USAN’s Strategic Land Acquisition Program.  The program was created to assemble long-dormant properties located near Niagara Falls State Park to remove blight from the downtown area and expand the density of uses as downtown Niagara Falls grows into a year-round, sustainable neighborhood and tourist destination.  In 2023, USAN issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for redevelopment of the property.  

More About the Aquarium of Niagara

The Aquarium of Niagara is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, with the community and partners, celebrates natural wonders and inspires people to make a difference for aquatic life. The Aquarium is home to 120 different species, including nine rescued and non-releasable marine mammals. The venue is open daily at 9 a.m., except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. For more information, visit www.aquariumofniagara.org.

About USA Niagara Development Corporation

USAN, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, is solely dedicated to the support and promotion of economic development initiatives in Niagara Falls by leveraging private investment and encouraging growth and renewal of the tourism industry in the City of Niagara Falls.  For more information, visit https://esd.ny.gov/usa-niagara-development-corporation-6.


Laura Magee (USAN) | [email protected] | (716) 846-8239 | (800) 260-7313

Press Office | [email protected] | (800) 260-7313

Christine Stephans (Aquarium of Niagara) | [email protected] | (716) 390-9020