Crowds at the edges of two nations roared their approval when Nik Wallenda completed his walk over Niagara Falls two weeks ago, but there was likely no one who felt the triumph more completely than Roger Trevino.
In the weeks leading up to the extraordinary event, Trevino had kept a pretty low media profile, until it came to light, just before the walk, that it was the long time promoter and vice president of Niagara Falls Redevelopment, who first walked up to the daredevil and asked him if he ever thought about coming to Niagara Falls.
Trevino has been a marketeer his entire adult life. Once the agent of former Bills' quarterback Jim Kelly, he has also worked with top name pros like Boomer Esiason, and Dan Marino. He came to the falls in 1988 to take the job at NFR and help aquire and oversee the 141 acres of land now owned by billionaire Howard Milstein, the state’s commissioner of the Thruway Authority.
The conference room at NFR, on the second floor of the Buffalo Avenue business center, is lined with drawings and project proposals that document the many ways he’s says he tried to create an event or attraction in Niagara Falls, but the Wallenda walk is the first time that Trevino been able to see one of his ideas come to life and explode into dividends that may be floating like confetti onto the city for some time to come.
Trevino sat down with the Niagara Gazette recently to share some thought about his role in the what some believe was the most positive events to happen in the city for decades.
QUESTION: Tell me the story about you and Nik.
ANSWER: I went to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in Orlando in October of 2010. I’d had several business meetings scheduled. I had always wanted to go to the professionals and find out who I might be able to network with to bring attractions to Niagara Falls. Just prior to that I’d had a meeting in Montreal with Circ D’ Sole.
QUESTION: So, you had planned to meet Nik at the amusement parks show?
A: I saw Wallenda had a booth at the show. He was very approachable. He’s got a great persona. We talked about a number of things. I actually asked him, ‘Nik, have you ever thought about coming to Niagara Falls?’ He said, ‘since I was six years old.’”
Q: When he said that, what was your response?
A: I believe I called George (state senator George Maziarz) from the convention floor. I had a meeting scheduled within a month and a half in his office.
Q: Just from looking around your office it’s clear you’ve pitched ideas like this before. How did it feel to actually have one get hit out of the park?
A: I’ve learned what the process is. I think that even though for many people 20 months might seem like a long time, in reality if we didn’t have a game plan, and didn’t understand in U.S. and Canada how this might work, it would have never happened. We had many friends and stakeholders on both sides of the river who made this happen.
Q: What do you think helped you most to win over officials on both sides?
A: Nik was upfront in his personality, intelligence and poise, both with the media and behind the scenes with elected officials. That was key ... they were all impressed with his knowledge from each angle, both scientific and safety wise, to his understanding of the economic impact and respecting the enviroment. Nik knew this from the beginning.
Q: How did it feel to have been responsible for setting everything in motion and yet not have the public know that it was you that started the whole thing?
A: The event was always about the event. The stars of the show were always Niagara Falls and Nik Wallenda ... this was a huge production. Once we got through legislatively, it truly was Nik and his management team.
Q: Did you worry when it appeared it might not happen?
A: This project had many routes and people ready to jump onboard. It was a train that couldn’t be stopped. That was all Nik’s doing. His tag line, and I fully buy into it, was “never give up.”
Q: So, as the representative to NFR in this region, you’ve taken some hits in the media and from this paper for the inactivity on your 141 acres over the past dozen years. How does it feel to be part of something so positive? Do you feel vindicated?
A: I don’t feel the need for vindication. We’ve invested a significant amount in this region and assembled close to 500 properties, which in development terms -- anyone who ever understands development would know what a great undertaking we’ve accomplished. Frankly, I go around the country and talk to developers and they’re flabbergasted to learn that not only do we have option rights to the property, we own the property outright.
Q: How did you feel watching Nik cross to Canada?
A: I was nervously glued to the TV until I saw him kneel and give us a fist pump. And then I could rest easy ... it’s hard to describe the feeling the the earliest days when only Nik, his team and I actually believed we could get this done. And that was after having been said no to on so many occasions.
Q: And now the city has that beautiful three hour telecast that was a giant commercial for Niagara Falls. You must be pretty happy with that.
A: Remember, from the outset that Nik and his team came in with the Discovery Cannel in his pocket and that was not lost on me. That was part of every discussion. It wasn’t until the passage (of laws that allowed Wallenda to walk) that his team understood it was a network quality opportunity. I always knew what a bonanza it would be (for the city). It was the highest ranking non-sports show in the last five years on ABC. In Canada it was the highest ranking summer television show, period.
Q: Has your phone been ringing off the hook since the walk?
A: My phone has been ringing. Some are well wishers and there are some who have been contacted before who have a rekindled interest and even some who I haven’t had a chance to contact, so I don’t know if they are tire kickers or whether there are real opportunities.
Q: What do you think will be the benefit of this walk in the city’s future?
A: A positive light has been shone on the city. The majority of stakeholders have shown they can work together. This will prove to the naysayers that the city of Niagara Falls is an economic opportunity waiting to happen. And we (NFR) can look forward to being a part of it, but we can’t do it alone.