By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — As 4,000 watched on Goat Island, and millions more tuned in around the world, Nik Wallenda stepped carefully onto his wire and into history books as he began his successful attempt to walk over the falls to Canada in June.
As he moved through the mist on that cool, late spring night, he joined a small legion of daredevils who have attempted stunts at the legendary waterfalls since record keeping began.
Niagara Falls spent that evening aglow in the global spotlight, not just on televisions tuned to the live ABC broadcast, but on social networking sites including Twitter, where it “trended” worldwide, a feat more often reserved for large sporting events like the Superbowl or the Olympics.
And while no strong evidence is available to determine the long-range impact of the historic walk, no one can deny that the three-hour television special and the eruption of tweets reminded people around the world of Niagara Falls as a potential travel destination.
The Wallenda impact still is being measured, but one survey — conducted shortly after the event by the Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management — showed the economic impact of Wallenda’s performance was $3.3 million from the three-day period starting June 15. The survey also disclosed that the event attracted at least 38,000 people to the region.
In August, Wallenda returned to Goat Island to reaffirm his expressed desire to create a permanent presence on the American side of the Falls. Standing with him was state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, the first government official to listen to Wallenda and help him obtain his dream of walking over Niagara Falls.
These days Maziarz is working to assist Wallenda in creating a permanent site in the city such as a museum, an entertainment center or performance area.
“After he does the Grand Canyon walk in June, he would like to come right back here and do something,” Maziarz said recently, adding Wallenda has looked at a couple of downtown properties and has met with at least one developer.
No matter what Wallenda decides, it’s clear that the media frenzy surrounding the June 15 event got a priceless amount of international coverage. There were 600 media badges distributed, with coverage from places as diverse as Germany, Japan and China, according to Angela Berti, a spokesperson for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The parks department has been conducting its own research about the event, as part of a survey of those who bought park passes in 2012, and while data is still being collected, Berti said that Niagara Falls State Park attendance had increased slightly this year above the annual average of 8 million.
“Our numbers were up this year although we can’t attribute that directly to Wallenda’s walk. But, we know the walk put the falls on the map,” Berti said, referencing the television production. “That was the biggest travelogue you could have ever seen.
“Anecdotally, when I walked the park and talked to visitors, several said they planned a trip after watching the Wallenda walk.”
John Percy, president of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp. said that the Wallenda walk was one of several factors that contributed to an estimated 7 percent increase in tourism in the city this past summer, along with the great weather and targeted marketing efforts.
He added that the positive response from Wallenda’s walk would only continue if there was another similar event or project to come. “Consumers are easily stimulated by messages everyday,” Percy said. “We have to keep Niagara Falls in peoples’ minds.”
But, the aerialst’s walk this June across the Grand Canyon, will continue to remind people of Wallenda’s walk across the falls, and is being billed as “Wallenda, Beyond Niagara,” Maziarz said, adding that the aerialist continues to promote the region.
“He was interviewed the other day in Las Vegas and all they talked about was Niagara Falls,” Maziarz said. “He’s the best ambassador we’ve got out there.”
Roger Trevino, the vice president of Niagara Falls Redevelopment, who first walked up to the daredevil at a convention in Florida and asked him about coming to Niagara Falls, said recently that the falls crossing did not disappoint and pointed out evidence of its longevity in the New York Times selection of a photo of Wallenda crossing the falls as one of the paper’s top photos of 2012.
“All our expectations were met in terms of the recognition that it reignited for Niagara Falls,” said Trevino, adding, “It’s one of the events that just keeps on giving, which is exactly what we wanted.”
When asked about whether he was one of the developers meeting with Wallenda to discuss if the NFR-owned 140 acres in the heart of the city could be a potential site for Wallenda’s permanent tourist attraction, Trevino decline to comment, noting “we don’t talk about potential negotiations or opportunities in the press.”
“We’ll see what happens,” Trevino added. “We’re very optimistic that there will be a number of opportunities that will be coming out of this.”
Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.
The Gazette is counted down its top 10 stories of the year through New Year's Day. The list: n 10: Tumultuous year for Falls air base n 9: Airport takes hit with Direct Air shutdown n 8: Lewiston Road's rough ride to repair n 7: Culinary institute opens in downtown Niagara Falls n 6: Gruesome mysterious death stuns Falls n 5: Child murder shocks the community n 4: Change is afloat for the Maid of the Mist n 3: Falls struggles in absence of casino cash n 2: SPCA of Niagara reborn after scandal n 1: Nik Wallenda wire-walks over the falls