The Stage Is Set, Is Niagara Falls Ready For The Spotlight?

Mike Bly

Director Of Acquisitions

With a rich history of manufacturing and tourism, the City of Niagara Falls, NY, at its peak, boasted a population of over 100,000 residents in an area of approximately 16 square miles that was nearly twice the density of major cities such as Dallas and Atlanta.  Consequently, the downtown district was a thriving area of commerce with small businesses, restaurants and nightlife options. However, over the past few decades, the loss of industry and the out-migration of residents have caused population to dwindle to approximately 50,000 people, leaving the city deprived of its downtown vibrancy.

While the city of Niagara Falls has spent the past half-century in decline, there are many reasons to believe its renaissance is on the horizon. First and foremost is the low barrier to entry for development. The practice of revitalization in a one-off fashion has proven to be ineffective and antiquated. A low front-end cost basis not only leaves more capital for construction and acquisition of properties at scale, but it also allows for an organic, demand-driven ramp-up in rent and lease prices upon completion. Market rate housing options are limited while there is, and will be, more demand for this product.

 

The second major reason to believe Niagara Falls will see a rebirth is the removal of the Robert Moses Memorial Parkway by the end of 2019. Currently, the Robert Moses creates an impenetrable barrier to the gorge rim. A pedestrian trail system spanning from Niagara Falls State Park north beyond the Whirlpool Bridge will serve as a replacement and effectively transform the entire Western edge of the city into gorge-front property.  Opportunities created for hospitality, retail, housing and recreation will become the viable, if not obvious, ones.

In addition to low acquisition costs and the Robert Moses removal, daily GOTrain service from Niagara Falls, Ontario to Toronto was accelerated and started on January 7th, 2019. The ease of metropolitan access will have a profound impact on the future of Niagara Falls, NY and the Western New York region. On the U.S. side, there has already been investment in preparation for this, such as the recently-built Niagara Falls Station and Customhouse Interpretive Center, which is directly linked to the future GOTrain station and prepared to process adequate custom services for commuter traffic. This opens the door for more cross-border businesses and services by offering a convenient commute to Toronto for Americans. Enhancing this likelihood is the Greater Toronto Area’s ongoing inflated living costs that will drive more residents and businesses to Niagara Falls, Ontario as the commute service throughout the GTA is delivered. With the two Niagara Falls cities working together to infuse density, combining amenities and housing options that are built on a “live, work and play” principle can create an environment attractive to a wide range of demographic classes including the soon-to-be largest working class of Millennials and Gen Zs.

Finally, services and amenities are lacking even though large employers such as Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital, the Police Department, City Hall and Niagara University are close by and in need of them. Furthermore, city and state leaders are taking a favorable position towards development in the form of zoning that encourages mixed-use development and engaging in dialog with the intent to see their investments pay off.   Granted, any of these factors alone may not make a strong enough case for the Niagara Falls’s resurgence, but together, the potential becomes very clear.

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