Nearly a week after Nik Wallenda's daring high-wire walk over Niagara Falls, the region is still buzzing about his feat. The task for civic leaders now is to use the excitement he generated to move the city ahead. It's about leverage: This must not be a one-and-done event.
Wallenda, himself, launched that effort with what appears to be real affection for the city and region whose leaders pushed for the event and where he conducted his public practice sessions. After the conclusion of Friday's walk, Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, said Wallenda wants to return to the Falls to create an exhibit featuring his walk.
That would be a great start toward leveraging the event to produce even greater benefit. Better still if the exhibit became a modern, high-tech museum documenting the history of daredevil stunts at the world's best-known outdoor theater of chance, and perhaps of the Wallenda family itself.
The need to exploit this event is obvious. Niagara Falls is one of the premier names in international tourism. It is known worldwide, yet Niagara Falls – beset by corruption, incompetence and mindless political feuds – has managed to squander a sure thing. It's like having a deck of marked cards and still losing hand after hand.
But enough is happening in and around Niagara Falls to believe that a new opportunity to get it right is at hand.
Niagara Falls is attracting new investment, such as developer Carl Paladino's rescue of the old United Office Building. The once-crumbling art deco gem is now the boutique Giacomo Hotel.
New York State is focusing efforts on revitalizing the state park that bears the city's name. A new student-run culinary institute will soon open its doors in the old Rainbow Centre. Up the road in Lewiston, Artpark's summer series of concerts is a roaring success.
An important part of the work of reviving the city will be to take continuing advantage of what Wallenda did for the city. It will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to replicate the excitement and magnetic draw of the Wallenda walk on a regular basis, but this is a moment for government and tourism leaders to plan for other events and attractions that can draw visitors, or at least prolong the stays of those who are already here.
This work should already be under way, but it can also be a long-term project, with support from a variety of interests. The still-gestating Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and Hospitality & Tourism Center, for example, could play a formal part. Similarly, students in Niagara University's Tourism & Recreation program could take a leading role in helping to redevelop one of the world's leading tourist attractions.
The critical task is to think like Wallenda did: creatively, daringly and with persistence. There was risk in what he did, but Niagara Falls has a sure thing. It shouldn't be any less possible to restore the city's potential than it was for a man to walk across the cataract on a two-inch wire.