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Falling short; Niagara Falls, state must do better job preparing for Wallenda's high-wire walk

There's a famous, if depressing, scene that ends the classic 1974 movie, "Chinatown." Faye Dunaway's character has just been shot and the police are on their way. Jack Nicholson's character, a private eye, wants to do something, but his associates dissuade him. "Forget it, Jake," one says. "It's Chinatown."

Don't you feel that way about Niagara Falls sometimes? Just forget it, because there's nothing you can do. If there's a way for Niagara Falls to get in its own way, it will find it. That, at least, is what appears to be happening as the date approaches for Nik Wallenda's high-wire walk across Niagara Falls. The city is taking pains to be sure it makes less of this opportunity than it can.

Some things are beyond the city's control. New York State, for example, is demanding $150,000 from Wallenda for security costs, while across the river in Ontario, officials are asking for one-third of that amount. The area where Wallenda is practicing, near the Seneca Niagara Casino, is looking drab because of a lack of funds relating to a dispute between the Senecas and New York State.

But why are police issuing parking tickets to those who come to watch Wallenda practice? Is the city so desperate for cash that it is willing to frustrate visitors?

More broadly, and more significantly, why are the efforts to prepare for the June 15 event so poorly coordinated on this side of the river, compared to the cooperative and welcoming full-court press across the river? Promotional signs are lacking, communication with local officials is nonexistent and there are few, if any, efforts to leverage the spectacle to capture other economic benefits.

Things are different in Niagara Falls, Ont. There officials -- who initially opposed the walk -- are in daily contact with Wallenda. Efforts are under way to capitalize on the event by renting out government-run restaurants and parks. They're looking to make the most of it.

Some of the problems may have more to do with another of Western New York's famous and foolish political feuds, this one between State Sen. George D. Maziarz, D-Newfane, and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster. Both need to make a point of demonstrating their cooperative efforts at ensuring the high-wire walk is the public relations success that the city and region need it to be.

Niagara Falls is one of the premier names in international tourism, but that status requires a high level of competence in promoting itself, and especially promoting events that attract international attention. It won't be good enough if, when visitors leave, their parting thoughts turn to Chinatown-on-the-Niagara.