PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
The Niagara Parks Commission has rejected a bid by daredevil Nik Wallenda to cross the Horseshoe Falls on a tightrope.
“Safety and our responsibility to preserve and protect the Falls, and all those who wish to view its beauty, are our paramount concern in reaching the decision we have,” said NPC chairwoman Janice Thomson.
The denial comes three weeks to the day after Wallenda made a personal pitch to the Commission, which has a long history of denying what it considers to be stunts. The NPC controls all provincial parks in and around the falls and a tract of parkway that runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie.
“What we’re doing is re-affirming our policy against stunting,” said Thomson.
The 10-member Commission held a conference call Tuesday night. At that time commissioners were asked if they wanted to re-open discussion of the Wallenda proposal. However, actual voting was done on an individual basis with Thomson; the commissioners do not know how others voted.
Thomson would not discuss the voting results.
“It’s a decision of the Parks Commission,” she said.
Commissioners are Thomson, Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin, Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor David Eke, Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Barb Greenwood, Niagara Falls Coun. Vince Kerrio and provincial appointees William Forward, Patricia Li, Lori Sterling, Virginia West and Ron McKerlie, all from Toronto. There are two vacancies.
“I’m not as upset as you might think,” Wallenda said Wednesday night from Florida. “I don’t hold any animosity for the Parks Commission, and I don’t think they were being vindictive or personal against me.”
Wallenda said he will consult with his supporters in Canada, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor among them, to see what his next move should be, and when.
Wallenda has said in the past he would appeal to Premier Dalton McGuinty if denied.
“We’ll see. I want to talk to some people and then we’ll decide. I don’t have any influence or power up there. I’m going to put myself in the hands of people who know the system better and let them guide me.”
In September, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved legislation authorizing the state parks department to allow Wallenda special permission to make the 1,800-foot walk beginning on the New York side of the falls. Canadian approval was needed for the walk’s end near the Table Rock visitor centre.
A Toronto consultant for the project said the performance would bring $20 million into the local economy on the two sides of the border and millions of viewers worldwide.
Wallenda’s 15-page economic study done by Toronto’s Enigma Research predicted 120,000 people would watch the attempted crossing live and spend an estimated $20.5 million. That number would balloon to $122 million of ‘legacy spending’ after five years, the report says. This includes money generated by repeat visitors or first-time visitors to Niagara Falls, who would come after viewing the show live, or on news reports or through special programs.
Enigma said a confirmed deal with the Discovery Network would allow the spectacle to be viewed live by more than 400 million people around the world, and at least another 60 million would see it through news broadcasts or entertainment shows.
“This isn’t a stunt to me. I’ve been doing this my whole life. This is life to me,” Wallenda told the Niagara Parks Commission last month.
Wallenda said he was “anxiously awaiting” the decision Wednesday morning. Writing on his Facebook page, he said: “I feel like a child on Christmas morning waiting to open his presents! Never give up!”
The Parks Commission a Crown agency accountable for the preservation and administration of lands in and around Niagara Falls with an annual budget of $77 million. While technically it receives no legislated government funding, it functions with the financial backing and assurances of the province, and does in fact get public money for some projects. The Parks Commission has lost money for at least four straight years, despite Niagara Falls being the busiest and most popular tourist attraction in Canada.
At Queen’s’ Park today, McGuinty said he will leave the decision-making up to the commission. He did however say previously he found it the proposal “exciting.”
Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak said he respects the NPC’s decision-making authority, but commented “sure” when asked if he would like to see the walk happen.