NIAGARA FALLS – The dream of honoring a world-famous inventor in the place where one of his most important ideas first became reality is back again.
While creating a Nikola Tesla museum in Niagara Falls is not a new idea, there’s a group making a new push to recognize the achievements of Tesla, whose alternating current system carried hydroelectric power generated at Niagara Falls to Buffalo in 1896.
While plans are in their infancy, a group of about 20 people met Thursday afternoon in the Niagara Falls Public Library on Main Street to talk about how the project may be finally achieved.
A museum or interpretive center telling the story of Tesla and Niagara Falls is seen as a potentially promising new attraction in a city in desperate need of giving visitors more things to do when they’re here.
“We are missing our own opportunity to tell the rest of the world who we are and why Niagara Falls really matters,” said Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s chief planner. DeSantis said his rough estimate for how much a project would cost, from rehabilitating the building to developing exhibits and making other improvements to the property, may sit in the range of $5 million to $10 million.
The notion of creating a facility to tell the story of Tesla and the area’s significant role in the history of electrification has been mentioned in the city’s master plan, as well as the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area’s plan.
For a group that’s calling itself “Friends of Tesla’s Transformer House” and just getting organized, there’s a lot that has to be done before anyone can even think of even starting to try to drum up funding.
The Tesla museum idea rekindled since the end of last year, when the State Parks Office announced plans to move the 9-foot, bronze statue of Tesla to a new spot on Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park. Some in the community called for the statue to be moved outside of the park and into the city – an idea that, at the time, the state agency said it would be open to pursuing.
The prime candidate for the attraction, as identified by the group, is the former transformer house of the Edward Dean Adams Power Plant at 1501 Buffalo Ave., a national historic landmark. It’s the last remaining building from the plant, where Tesla’s alternating current was adopted on a large scale for the first time in history.
Peter Fontanarosa, a Niagara Falls native who lives in Florida and who owns Fontanarosa Construction Co., owns the property and has long hoped to be able to turn it into something that recognizes Tesla’s accomplishments. Fontanarosa bought the parcel from then-Niagara Mohawk in 1997, according to city records.
“I would love to share it with people,” he said.
Thursday’s discussion included community members who have e taken an interest in the Tesla statue, as well as others interested in local history and cultural development projects.
Area historian Paul Gromosiak, who has previously called for the Tesla statue to be moved to the transformer house on Buffalo Avenue, said the historic site “where Tesla shined” has been sitting and waiting for this project to happen.
“Let’s tell the world all about that,” Gromosiak said. “Let’s do it right.”