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Wallenda touts Falls attraction for next year

LOCKPORT – Daredevil Nik Wallenda said Tuesday that he is continuing to make plans for a Niagara Falls attraction, themed to his family’s history of death-defying stunts, which could open in some form next summer.

“The idea would be that Nik Wallenda would have a semipermanent home base in Niagara Falls,” the wire walker said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel there wasn’t any momentum.”

He envisions a permanent attraction that might eventually grow into a full-fledged hotel and resort, Wallenda told reporters in Lockport, where he attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the city’s new twin-rink ice arena.

Wallenda was in Lockport to meet with State Sen. George D. Maziarz, one of his staunchest supporters, who helped ensure that Wallenda’s June 2012 wire walk over Niagara Falls occurred.

Maziarz’s district office is about two blocks from the rink site, so Maziarz, who was scheduled to speak at the ceremony anyway, invited Wallenda to come along.

They watched as an excavator from Cambria Contracting used its iron jaws to smash down a masonry structure over the loading dock of the former Jubilee supermarket on Chestnut Street.

It is to be razed to make way for the $12 million ice arena, which is scheduled to open in September 2014.

Afterward, Wallenda told reporters that he envisions a “family entertainment venue” in downtown Niagara Falls, but neither the site nor the funding has been arranged.

The daredevil said, “It’ll start with just a Nik Wallenda production where I’ll bring in a show where families will be able to come from the area as well as local schools and such to see a show that my family has produced for years, but we’re going to make a show specifically for this area, talk about the story of Niagara Falls and my life growing up, the dreams that I had and fulfilling those dreams in this area.”

Maziarz said he believes the project will be privately funded.

“We’re not asking for any government assistance whatsoever. Our dream is to do this completely through the private sector,” Wallenda said.

He said he prefers downtown Niagara Falls and has talked to several landowners. Maziarz said he thinks the area near the state park “would be the best use from the standpoint of attracting visitors.”

Wallenda said, “There’s no specifics yet. It’s a process. As I said on stage, ‘Never give up.’ It hasn’t been an easy process for sure. It’s a challenge to get something like this off the ground. It seems like an extremely large challenge in this area, but I’m up for the challenge. I don’t give up.”

Wallenda noted, as many others have, “There’s not a lot to do on the U.S. side.”

To do something about that, Wallenda plans an interactive center that could include such activities as learning to walk a wire over a wave pool.

Meanwhile, the start of work on Lockport’s arena drew the cheers of a crowd of youth hockey players and officials.

The Lockport Ice Arena and Sports Center, a private, not-for-profit venture, is being funded in large part by Lockport’s Grigg-Lewis Foundation, which gave $4 million, its largest grant ever.

“Major kudos to the Grigg-Lewis Foundation for being the Pegulas of Lockport,” said John R. Koelmel, president of the Buffalo Sabres’ HarborCenter project, which also will open multiple rinks next fall.

City Attorney John J. Ottaviano, president of the arena, said it took five years of work to bring the project to the point of construction. “Looking back, we realized how easy it would have been to give up,” he said. “But we were stubborn.”

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said, “This project is truly a game-changer for our city.”

It will replace a decaying building, closed for more than a decade, with an arena that is expected to be jammed with amateur hockey players, bringing them by the hundreds to downtown Lockport every day.

Although the foundation grant and a bank mortgage are the largest parts of the funding, a public fund drive is coming.