Niagara Gazette

June 16, 2013

A year after walk, Falls officials balance expectations, realities of Wallenda's walk

A year later, city leaders look forward to even more publicity during daredevil's Grand Canyon crossing

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Last year, when Nik Wallenda said repeatedly that crossing Niagara Falls on a wire was a dream come true, he wasn’t kidding.

The opening story of the daredevil’s new book, “Balance,” details a dream he had as a child, where he saw a giant waterfalls and met his grandfather, aerialist Karl Wallenda, who told him “Walk over the falls.” Images of the dream came back to him again when he was about 6, he wrote, when his parents took him to see the falls and he felt as if he had already seen them. And so he had, in his dreams.

Last summer, he visited the great falls once again when, after much negotiation and planning, he made that dream come true when he walked a thin wire from the U.S. to Canada, across the raging waters of Niagara Falls.

The walked changed Nik Wallenda’s life. He was recently quoted in the Niagara Falls, Ont., Review as attributing success of the walk to the reason he was able to take on his next great challenge — a walk across the Grand Canyon on June 23.

“That walk has done everything for my career,” he says during a phone interview with The Review while training for his next challenge, which will be televised by the Discovery Channel.

Saturday was the one year anniversary of Wallenda’s historic walk over this city’s giant waterfalls, and an informal Gazette survey showed that while the impact of the media storm of publicity last year is still unclear, the good news is that the city is now able to take advantage of additional publicity expected to follow Wallenda’s canyon walk.

The upcoming high wire walk — which will be on a cable raised seven times the height of the falls walk and five times the distance — will give the city of Niagara Falls an opportunity they were unable to take advantage of the first time around, due to the lack of funds in a skeletal city budget.

Happily, city coffers will soon be replenished by about $89 million thanks to the payment of casino funds owed for the past four years, but withheld by the Seneca Nation until an agreement was reached with the state on Thursday.

The money will fortify the city’s marketing efforts, through it’s marketing agency, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., to the tune of about $5 or $6 million.

“After Wallenda’s walk last year we tracked all the media hits, and knew those would be logical places to put our marketing money,” said Mayor Paul Dyster. “But, just as the walk was happening, we were hitting rock bottom in terms of funding for the NTCC.”

“As money flows back into NTCC, they can go back and say, ‘which stones did we leave unturned. What didn’t we do for lack of casino revenue,’” the mayor added.

John Percy, the director of the NTCC said that the money will allow the city to advertise during the live Discovery Channel show.

“We were talking some TV commercials in some key markets,” Percy said. “Now we’ll be able to hopefully expand on that. We will look at how we can strategically capitalize on this as much as possible.”

Meantime, while city leaders and businesses report an uptick in tourism of about 10 to 15 percent, but no one questioned during a recent informal survey by the Gazette could attribute it soley to Wallenda’s walk last summer.

“This first quarter has been fantastic,” said Jeff Deming, general manager of the Giacomo Hotel. “I don’t know if I can attribute that to my friend, Wallenda or if it’s just brilliant marketing,” he joked, noting that the wirewalk topic certainly comes up quite a bit between staff and guests at the upscale boutique hotel. “For sure it was in the public consciousness, without a doubt.”

A little further outside the state park, a spokesperson for Niagara Street said he has noticed an increase in traffic. “I see more tourists coming down Niagara Street, asking for information,” said Ron Anderluh of the Niagara Street Business Association. “I don’t know if related to Wallenda’s walk,” he added. “We’ve dressed up the street, too, with the flags, and the road was done last year between Portage Road and John Daly Boulevard, so that helps too.”

Frank Strangio, president of the Niagara Falls Hotel and Motel Association, and chairman of the NTCC, noted that images of the Falls walk spiced up perceptions of the city. “I’m not sure people are saying I’m going to Niagara Falls because Wallenda walked it,” he said. “But, that TV coverage was incredible. The images were great. They added a little heat to the destination of Niagara Falls. It made us cool,” Strangio said.

Clearly, the consensus is that the three-hour ABC prime time coverage of Wallenda’s Niagara Falls crossing was invaluable to the city.

“It’s priceless to be able to get people to see any sort of video of a great tourist destination like Niagara Falls,” said Jim Wise, vice president of marketing for the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, where Wallenda practiced in front of crowds in the days leading up to his historic feat. “Tourism agencies of every major city are trying to come up with ideas and failing, and meanwhile, Niagara Falls has a couple of hours of great television with superior ratings.”

The city will get another go round on June 23 when the topic of Wallenda’s Niagara Falls walk will come up during the Discovery Channel’s live programming.

Sen. George Maziarz and his wife, Beverly, will be among the two hundred or so invited guests who will be watching the taping of the Grand Canyon wire walk, which will take place on the sprawling Navajo Indian Reservation, 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River, just east of the national park.

Unlike the Niagara Falls event, there won’t be large crowds assembled at the start and finish because the reservation is so isolated that the Discovery Channel had to build a two mile road to get people and equipment to the site of the walk, the senator said.

However, Maziaraz said he has been told that video of Wallenda’s walk over Niagara Falls will certainly be a part of the broadcast, as will Maziarz, who was the politician most instrumental in clearing Wallenda’s path to make the Niagara Falls walk across the gorge. “The Discovery Channel will be interviewing me about Nik’s Niagara Falls walk prior to his walk across the canyon,” Maziarz noted.

And while Wallenda’s recent interview in the Canadian paper, The Review, implied he was considering locating an daredevil attraction in the Niagara Falls, Ont., Maziarz said Wallenda has always said he wants to build an attraction on the American side and that throughout all their dealings, Wallenda has proven to be a man of his word.

“The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario is continually pitching Wallenda,” Maziaraz said. “But, Nik has indicated he’s going to build on the Niagara Falls (USA) side and he’s a person of his word. I trust him. We’re going to get him over here.”

Roger Trevino, vice president of Niagara Falls Redevelopment,  the person who first approached Wallenda about a coming to Niagara Falls, said he, too, will be attending the Grand Canyon walk. He would not say, however, whether any plans were in the works to place Wallenda’s attraction on the nearly 140 acres of land he oversees for NFR. “We never comment on business discussion,” he said, but added that overall, since Wallenda’s walk last summer, “there certainly has been interest in Niagara Falls.”

Regardless, as Trevino and Maziarz and their fellow travelers enjoy the Wallenda’s canyon walk up close and personal, international television viewers of the Discovery Channel show will see once again Wallenda’s dramatic crossing over Niagara Falls, and the unforgettable images of the mist dripping from his face as he prayed out loud, crossing over the majestic waterfalls.

“That type of exposure is going to stick in people’s minds,” said Mayor Paul Dyster. “The falls was the star of the Wallenda walk and I think Wallenda recognized it was going to be that way. At the end of the day it reminded all of us of the great resource we have here in Niagara Falls.”