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NOV 04- NOV 12, 2014

Wallenda Wows Chicago But Loses Out to Hyatt Place in Niagara Falls

By Tony Farina

November 04, 2014

We could have had (top) Wallenda and a big tent circus in Niagara Falls. But the gurus of development at the state and city level opted for a mid-level business Hyatt Place hotel (similar to above, only smaller). We could have had world famous Nik Wallenda (below) using his own money but these same gurus chose to ignore him and chose instead to chase taxpayer subsidy developer Mark Hamister (below).



Ever since he made his history-making tightrope walk over Niagara Falls in June of 2012 before a world television audience, daredevil showman Nik Wallenda has said over and over again that he wants to have a permanent place in Western New York but nobody from the area has really stepped up to make it happen.

Wallenda and his family did entertain thousands of visitors to Darien Lake last summer in a spectacular 10-week run, and he did a high-wire walk above the Erie County Fair in Hamburg last August, a thrilling feat that left fairgoers in awe

Along the way, the death-defying performer made a quarter-mile tightrope walk over the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon, and last Sunday (Nov. 2) he again thrilled a national television audience estimated at six million with two high wire walks between skyscrapers without a net or safety harness in windy downtown Chicago. In one of the walks, the daring aerialist performed while blindfolded.

“I love Chicago, and Chicago definitely loves me. What an amazing roar [from the thousands below him],” he said as he crossed the Chicago River Sunday night.

It is sad, when you think about it, that the high-flying Wallenda family has not found a permanent home in Western New York, a can’t-miss tourist attraction for visitors from around the world who have watched his daring on live TV.

To his credit, retiring State Sen. George Maziarz had the audacity in September of 2012, fresh on the heels of Wallenda’s memorable Niagara Falls crossing, to suggest that Wallenda be allowed to set up a permanent attraction at 360 Rainbow Blvd. in the cataract city, the downtown site that had been earmarked by state and local officials for a transformational hotel project by Buffalo developer Mark Hamister.

Even though Niagara Falls is desperate for a family attraction that might keep tourists in town for more than a quick look at the mighty world wonder, state and local officials pretty much ignored the idea of creating a Wallenda tourist destination at the prime site near the falls and stuck with the plan to build a hotel that officials said would save downtown.

Now, two years later, Wallenda is thrilling crowds in Chicago and television viewers across the country while the 360 Rainbow Blvd. site remains a dump of a parking lot with no hotel in sight. In fact, the much-hyped $25.3 million hotel project by the Hamister Group,with a big assist in public dollars from the state and the city, has grown in cost to $28 million and the plan now calls for a scaled down Hyatt Place hotel, the kind of low-end facility that is normally used by business travelers for which the brand was designed.

Now what would attract more world travelers to Niagara Falls, a business hotel or a family friendly show featuring the world-famous flying Wallenda family? My belief is that a Wallenda entertainment center featuring the aerialist who walked across Niagara Falls and part of the Grand Canyon wins hands down over a small business hotel that isn’t even in sight as yet.

Too bad the opportunity to feature the Wallenda family in downtown Niagara Falls, just across the street from the planned $150 million Rainbow Mall development, appears lost in order to bring in a developer who couldn’t land the kind of transformational project that officials said he would deliver.

We can all remember the excitement when Wallenda was drawing crowds to Niagara Falls in preparation for his walk across the gorge in the spring of 2012. Nik Wallenda is not only a member of the world famous Wallenda Troupe, he is an engaging and personable entertainer who falls in love with his admirers and they with him. Let’s hope somebody in Western New York figures out that he would love to locate a permanent site here, preferably in Niagara Falls, and puts a plan together to make it happen.

If Wallenda doesn’t land in Western New York, it’s another chapter in the missed opportunity book that unfortunately is still being written. But we might get a new Hyatt Place sometime in the near future. I can’t wait.

This city owned lot is just steps from the Niagara Falls State Park. it would be an ideal location for a world-class attraction like Wallenda. yet somehow. the state and the city fought to keep Wallenda out, while fighting to give millions in taxpayer subsidies to build a mid-scale Hyatt Place.







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