Federal dollars earmarked for NU's educational 'hub' in the Falls

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Feb. 10—U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, visited the City of Niagara Falls on Friday to announce the award of $1.4 million in federal funds to help establish a new "academic innovation hub" in the city's North End.

During a press conference at First Congregational United Church of Christ on Cleveland Avenue off Main Street, Gillibrand said the funding would help Niagara University establish the new hub inside the basement of the historic church building, which has been standing in the Falls for 168 years.

With the $1.4 million from the federal government, $1.1 million in state revitalization funds and $2.5 million from NU, partners in the project will restore the church building and reopen it to the community as a resource center for education and workforce development.

Officials are hoping the project will help in ongoing efforts to revitalize the Main Street and north Main Street corridor which local and state officials have designated as the "Bridge District."

Gillibrand indicated that the federal dollars announced Friday would help take the project "over the finish line."

"This important community center will provide workforce development and educational opportunities, English as a Second Language classes, and early childhood development support for residents in every corner of the city," Gillibrand said. "The outstanding opportunities provided by the hub will connect residents to jobs and serve as a gateway to new business and culture to the downtown corridor."

Mayor Robert Restaino said the hub will provide a place for residents to gain access to resources focused on developing and sharpening their life skills.

"This will help tackle problems our families face whether with finances, literacy, or childcare," Restaino said. "At the same time, helping build foundational pieces for future business opportunities."

Under an agreement between the long-time owners and caretakers of the historic church building, First Congregational will remain a place for worship. As part of the hub project, NU and its partners will use the building's basement for workforce and educational training programs and will equip the site with classrooms, office space for support staff. In addition, officials said the new center will also provide residents opportunities to attend speaker events, concerts, art shows, and community meetings.

The hub, which is expected to be completed in 2024, is part of Niagara University's seven-year strategic plan. NU officials said it is also part of the university's ongoing commitment to help revitalize the city of Niagara Falls.

"We are witness to the tangible signs of the momentum building in the region, and this federal funding takes that momentum to a new level as we work together to bring economic, workforce, and social development, in concert with impactful academic and career development for our students," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "This is only the beginning, but we are beginning to see progress in our community, and I look forward to working with the entire community to create opportunities for growth, development and investment for the residents of Niagara Falls and in our region."