The Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. has hired the Buffalo architecture firm Foit-Albert Associates to design and renovate a permanent visitors center downtown.
The $1.4 million project will transform the former Artisan's Alley at First Street and Rainbow Boulevard into a state-of-the-art tourist facility by next year's tourist season, said John Percy, the agency's president and chief executive officer.
It will be the city's first permanent independent visitors center outside Niagara Falls State Park in years.
Funding will come from $1 million in federal transportation enhancement funds and a local match. The grant was awarded last year by Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council and the state Department of Transportation, which hand out such funds every six years.
Percy credited USA Niagara Development Corp., the state's development arm in the city, with obtaining the federal funds.
"I would not be going after a visitors center if I did not get that grant," Percy said "They wrote the grant and sponsored it for me."
The tourism agency had leased the former Artisan's Alley for two years from the late businessman Frank Amendola, but now will purchase the property with some of the grant money.
Percy said he plans to close on the property in July, but declined to release any figures.
He said Foit-Albert was chosen from among 10 applicants that submitted qualified statements, and construction will begin this fall, with a grand opening expected in May 2008.
The space, meanwhile, will open May 11 or 12 for this tourism season, Percy said.
The facility, which promotes attractions throughout Niagara County, had been operated by the Niagara Greeters Program but will now be run by agency employees.