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Niagara Falls needs to get moving and cash in on Wallenda popularity

Nik Wallenda’s harness-less high-wire walk at the Grand Canyon last month was a reminder of last year’s feat over Niagara Falls and, more than that, of the promise it holds for tourism development in the city that it supports.

It should also serve as a reminder to officials in the tourism industry, as well as the city and state, not to squander the opportunity it offers to Niagara Falls, and in particular, Wallenda’s wish to establish an attraction in the city.

Wallenda performs a show in Sarasota, Fla., every year leading up to the start of baseball spring training. It takes place in a tent – an upscale, air-conditioned tent that seats 1,800 people. Every show is sold out and the break-even point is just 33 percent of capacity, according to State Sen. George D. Maziarz.

That is what Wallenda wants to bring to Niagara Falls, said Maziarz, who recently took two potential developers to see the Sarasota attraction. It would likely be a temporary attraction, but one that could eventually become permanent.

For his part, Wallenda has shown no sign of diminishing interest in establishing an attraction in Niagara Falls. As recently as March, he said he would love to have a permanent presence in the city he now calls his “second home.”

“I feel like a kid at Disney World every time I come back,” he said then. “There’s just something alluring about the falls.”

Indeed, there is, even if those of us in Western New York take our very own wonder for granted. Certainly, the leadership of the City of Niagara Falls has. Over the course of decades, it has squandered what should have been a sure thing: one of the most recognizable names in global tourism. That’s why supporters of Wallenda’s proposal need to be wary.

Certainly, some hopeful developments are already taking place in Niagara Falls. Niagara County Community College has opened a culinary institute in the old Rainbow Centre shopping mall, putting a large chunk of a derelict building back into productive use. It is already popular.

In addition, plans are under way to remove a section of the Robert Moses Parkway on the city’s north side, thereby reconnecting the Niagara River Gorge with the city’s residents and making it more accessible to tourists.

Niagara Falls State Park, long down at the heels, has been given a $5 million face lift. The dispute between the Seneca Indians and New York State has been resolved, freeing up $89 million the city was owed in proceeds from the Seneca Niagara Casino.

It is time to capitalize on all of these developments, and leveraging Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls is a key way to do that. His proposed tent show would be a powerful attraction, and if anyone forgets that, the interest in last month’s walk at the Grand Canyon is a timely reminder. We need to get this done.