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NIAGARA FALLS – A plan to draw young professionals and creative types downtown is set to receive yet another boost.

Niagara University will move its community outreach office to downtown Niagara Falls in an attempt to develop the burgeoning Park Place neighborhood, Mayor Paul A. Dyster announced Thursday.

“Professionals and students downtown, … that is what it means to put your money where your mouth is,” Dyster said in his annual State of the City address, referring to a series of recent investments in the neighborhood.

Spurring the investments – which include a new $450,000 grant to improve storefronts in the Third Street area – is a plan to draw recent college graduates to Main Street by paying toward their student loans with city funds.

That program is set to kick off later this year with 20 students who are moving from across the country to live in downtown Niagara Falls.

Unveiled last summer, the program has revived talk of creating a “creative class” in the Falls along the lines of Buffalo’s Elmwood Village.

“At the same time, every national media outlet in the country has told our story, and people around the nation are talking about, and considering, Niagara Falls as a living and working destination,” Dyster said.

The presence of Niagara community workers and student volunteers will only help that effort, said Community Development Director Seth A. Piccirillo. “Any time you have more people coming into a neighborhood, it becomes a safer place to gather, and you have more people who want to spend their time there,” said Piccirillo, who created the program.

Niagara will move its community office from across town into an old home at 640 Park Place, also the location of a new office of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

“Obviously, the visibility is a big thing, to be right there on Main Street,” said Tom Lowe, coordinator of the ReNU Niagara program. “But it’s more than that – we need to be in the center of the action.”

The university plans to expand its community outreach programs by helping implement the student loan program, dubbed “LiveNF,” and continuing its work with Niagara Falls’ most impoverished residents.

Those efforts include converting vacant lots in blighted areas in Niagara Falls into community gardens and helping connect residents with the training they need to find decent jobs.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com