Column by Don Glynn — There’s a new breed of sidewalk superintendents in downtown Niagara Falls.
Unlike the typical work site — watching hardhats skillfully putting steel beams in place — all eyes Saturday were glued to tightrope artist Nick Wallenda strolling on a 2-inch cable linked to two giant construction cranes.
Most of the several hundred spectators watched almost in reverent silence as he gingerly took one step at a time. The comments ranged from “Oh, my God! I’ve never seen anything like this!” to “This is going to be great. It’s what Niagara Falls needs.”
One smart aleck kid shouted, “Don’t die!”
The stage was set for Wallenda to begin training for his 1,800-foot walk June 15 across the Niagara Gorge, in front of the Horseshoe Falls, between Terrapiin Point on Goat Island and Table Rock House on the Ontario side of the 175-foot waterfall.
While the mid-June event, complete with international media coverage, is estimated to draw 125,000 spectators (a Kentucky Derby crowd) to the falls that day, upwards of 300 million other people may view it on television.
For the next couple of weeks, the city’s South End tourist district will undoubtedly have a steady influx of visitors hoping to see Wallenda practice. The schedule calls for him to perform daily, from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 3:30 to 5 p.m.
There are numerous vantage points around the plaza in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino. The starting point is from a vacant lot south of the plaza, the former site of a Holiday Inn. The slightly uphill route ends at the north end of the plaza, near Wendel Way and the Seneca Niagara Office Building.
Obviously small business people should expect to benefit from the influx as well. They include Mark and Michael DiFranesco, co-owners of The Daredevil Museum, Rainbow Boulevard, and Michael Murphy, who operates Murphy’s Cafe, Third Street. They’re ideally positioned to attract the Wallenda fans.
Murphy and the DiFrancesco brothers are more aware than ever of the three factors vital to generate revenues: Location, Location and Location.
Murphy’s Cafe in The Jefferson Apartments includes an outdoor patio that affords a unique view of Wallenda’s starting point. “I’m really excited about the business it could bring into our area here,” Murphy said. He wonders though if the Seneca Casino will end up putting food vendors out in the plaza, which could hurt other business on Third Street. It’s doubtful that will happen.
“We’re ready for them,” Mark DiFrancesco said Friday as he stood in front of his museum and looked toward the cranes rising from the plaza.
DiFrancesco installed two large colorful cardboard cutouts — a man and a woman walking on tightropes across the falls. There’s space for tourists to stick their heads through the two figures, a perfect souvenir photo from the Wallenda performance at the falls.
DiFrancesco hopes Wallenda will find time to stop by the museum to see the wide-ranging items on display (e.g. barrels and other contraptions of daredevils over the centuries and, of course, photos of The Great Blondin, the Frenchman who walked over the Niagara River in 1859 (with his manager on his back) and again in 1860.
In addition to the Daredevil Museum and Murphy’s, other popular places like Friday’s and Starbucks in the Sheraton by the Falls and Wine on Third should experience in boost in business during Wallenda’s exciting training days.
WORTH THE TRIP: Next time you’re in Youngstown to visit Old Fort Niagara, the state park, or perhaps one of the area restaurants, remember to stop by Falkner Park in the village.
With its neatly-cut lawns, flowers, and the 1812 Peace Garden (symbolic of 200 years of friendship between the U.S. and Canada) it surely ranks as one of the most beautiful village parks in Western New York.
A FULL HOUSE: Nearly 400 persons attended a fundraiser Thursday night for City Judge Angelo Morinello at Antonio’s Banquet Center. It was one of the biggest such political functions ever held at the facility on Niagara Falls Boulevard, according to a spokesman for the committee to re-elect the judge.