U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Niagara University and local officials on Feb. 10, 2023, at The First Congregational Church in the Bridge District of Niagara Falls, N.Y., to announce $1.4 million in federal funding that will be used to transform the building into an Academic Innovation Hub. The hub will enable the university to leverage its resources to integrate academic programs and curriculum with civic engagement.
“By providing direct neighborhood outreach, civic and academic programming, and cultural events, this innovation hub will help revitalize the downtown corridor and bolster the next generation of leaders in Western New York,” Senator Gillibrand said. “It will also allow Niagara University to leverage partnerships in this community and will help address the needs of Niagara Falls residents, offering opportunities for workforce, social, and economic development.”
The Academic Innovation Hub, located on Cleveland Avenue in downtown Niagara Falls, will serve as a learning opportunity for students, who will work with a faculty-in-residence to engage with the community to determine its needs as they align with the university’s mission and the five pillars of the social determinates of health. Internships with community organizations will provide in-depth knowledge and experience as well as career pathways for students.
The hub will also serve as a resource center, providing outreach to help residents with early childhood development, economic development, and community collaborations, with a focus on their health and wellness. As one of many anchors of Niagara Falls’ North End, it will work to deliver vitality, growth, and needed support for the organizations and businesses already operating there.
“The space that we’re in now will be transformed by the good work that is being planned by the university,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino. “Niagara University's interest in the City of Niagara Falls is exceptional, and this funding will help renovate this beautiful historic building.”
The funding will support the renovation of parts of the building into a state-of-the-art working space to meet the needs of the innovation hub. In addition, the university will purchase new furniture, computers and technology-related equipment, and make a number of infrastructure upgrades, including the installation of an elevator to provide handicap access. The building’s worship space will remain intact and will be used for various activities, including the continued use by the existing congregation, a speaker series, and music events.
“We thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her support of the Niagara University plan to create an Academic Innovation Hub for workforce development training programs here in the heart of Niagara Falls, N.Y.,” said Niagara County legislator Jeffrey Elder. “One of the seven goals identified in Niagara County’s comprehensive economic development strategy is to improve educational opportunities to ensure a highly skilled workforce. This project fits right in with our objectives to identify skills gaps for key industries and to develop workforce training programs to fill those gaps. The initial offerings that this program will make available in data analytics, cyber security, childhood education, and supply chain management have been identified as in-demand occupations in Niagara County and Western New York. Niagara County looks forward to a continued collaboration with Niagara University and identifying other opportunities for training for in-demand occupations that can be held in this new Academic Innovation Hub. We view this project, and all of the resources that will be made available by Niagara University, as an anchor for the revitalization of the downtown corridor.”
“The Vincentian mission is a call to service, a call for assisting those most in need, but critically, a call for action, to look beyond our campus to build equitable relationships and to use the strength of education in an engaged process that inspires those in our community,” said Dr. Debra Colley, Niagara University’s executive vice president. “The vision is to leverage the university to be right here in this neighborhood in the North End. To bring together our faculty and staff and their teaching and research, the enthusiasm and skills of our students—and we are going to have a lot of them walking around this area—to engage with residents to broaden potential in their own community. We will integrate academic and career pathways for our students, focusing on our four pillars—early childhood, economic development, community impact, and health and wellness—all while maintaining this historic landmark. This satellite location, our academic hub, will allow us to reach people in new ways. We know this significant investment will bring us all together for economic, workforce, and social redevelopment of Niagara Falls. We thank you, Senator Gillibrand, for your support and commitment for this important work.”
The project was established with an initial investment of $2.5 million and received a $1.1 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, administered by Empire State Development. In addition, Niagara University was also awarded a two-year, $450,000 grant from The John R. Oishei Foundation for programming and intern scholarships at the hub.