By Justin Sondel email@example.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Aquarium of Niagara will see capital improvements for the first time in decades thanks to a large gift from The New York Power Authority.
The aquarium was awarded $1.75 million by the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board last week, a move that received final approval from NYPA’s board of trustees on Tuesday, to fund the first phase of a six step, multi-year capital project that has been in the works for years.
Gay Molnar, the executive director, said she is excited to hear that the first major improvements since the aquarium opened would be funded.
“This is the first time in over 48 years that we’ve received a substantial grant like the one we’ve received from NYPA,” she said.
The first phase of the project will involve a new exhibit for the aquarium’s penguins.
Molnar said she is waiting to hear back from state officials with more information.
“There will be more details to follow,” she said.
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, sponsored legislation passed in 2010 that established the power proceeds board.
Prior to that legislation excess power generated by the Niagara Power Project was sold on the open market by NYPA and the proceeds were deposited in the agency’s general fund.
The legislation states that the money from the additional power sold must be spent on projects within a 30 mile radius of the power project in Lewiston.
Maziarz said projects funded by the power proceeds can help to turn the area’s economy around.
“Now it needs to be spent here,” Maziarz said of the funds.
Maziarz said that while the power proceeds projects often involve a job training component, the aquarium project is important for the Falls where tourists are seeking more attractions.
“Everywhere you go people say you need things to do in Niagara Falls,” he said. “This is going to rebuild the aquarium.”
Mayor Paul Dyster said the aquarium has been a “stalwart” tourist destination in Niagara Falls since it opened and is well deserving of the power proceeds grant.
“We’ve been in discussions for some time about a multi-phase capital project there,” he said.
Dyster said the improvements will help the aquarium attract more visitors and be an integral part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push for more attractions in the city.
“Any tourism attraction that’s going to compete globally needs to reinvest to freshen the product,” Dyster said.
And in the case of the aquarium the investment will also help to improve the quality of life for its collection of animals.
“In this case their collection consists of living things so it’s also important that they do the things that make it possible to better care for the animals that are in their charge,” the mayor said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257