Nik Wallenda is returning to Western New York, but it’s happening 50 miles from the brink of Niagara Falls, the place that helped propel him to worldwide fame.
Darien Lake is getting first crack at the international daredevil with a 10-week stint starting in June, Wallenda and park officials announced Wednesday.
Ever since Wallenda’s heart-stopping wire walk across falls in June 2012, there has been talk of him returning to a more permanent venue in the Falls, which draws 8 million tourists from around the world every year.
But those plans never materialized.
Instead, the Genesee County theme park, a regional attraction that has about a million visitors every summer, will host the Wallenda family for the summer where they will perform twice daily shows six days a week from June 23 through Sept. 1.
Wallenda, during a news conference in Williamsville on Wednesday morning, said park officials approached him about the opportunity. A member of Wallenda’s camp said the park was “very aggressive” in its pursuit.
“My family is beyond thrilled to be coming back to what I do consider my second home,” he said.
Wallenda, who continued to say that his goal is to have a permanent place to perform in the area, kept the door open about doing something in the future in the Falls.
“I wanted to have a presence in Western New York and they presented me with that opportunity,” Wallenda said.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said that two different entities over two seasons have been in talks with Wallenda about setting up shop in the Falls.
After 13 million people had watched his televised walk across Niagara Falls, Wallenda gained another huge international audience last year when he walked across the Grand Canyon. He has toured the globe giving motivational speeches and performing, including last weekend in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
It seemed like a natural fit to bring the brash daredevil back to the international tourist destination that made him a superstar.
Wallenda’s manager characterized talks involving the Falls as “always ongoing,” noting that Wallenda “would love nothing more than doing something in Niagara Falls.”
“I think it’s just a challenge for the community to come together,” said Winston Simone, Wallenda’s manager.
Simone said Darien Lake, as an existing facility, “had the ability to move quicker.”
To get something going in the Falls, a facility would be needed to house the attraction.
Most observers would agree it’s not a lack of available space that would prevent a deal – the Falls has plenty of that, including in the prime downtown tourist district.
But there’s at least the perception – if not reality – that Falls politics may be playing a role.
“We’ve worked with some people in the Niagara Falls region and continue to, but as everybody knows here, it takes time to get things done in Niagara Falls,” Wallenda said. “And this was an opportunity. I was tired of coming back and saying, you know, ‘I’m working on it, I’m working on it.’ And again, this was an opportunity to say not only am I working on it, but I’m here and it’s happening.”
When asked what might be holding up a potential deal in the Falls, Wallenda said, “I think a lot of it is the backing. Just getting the financial support that we need, and such.”
He continued, “There’s a lot of wealthy people for sure that are interested, but they’re all very gun shy. And I think it does have to do with everything, from the politics involved. We all know, we don’t even have to get into that. There’s so many politics involved there and you can’t keep everybody happy.”
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he’s happy to see Wallenda returning to Western New York, though he’d prefer it was to the Falls.
Maziarz, who has talked about bringing a Wallenda-related attraction here since the time of the walk across the falls, said he believes a potential project has been “hampered by the fact” that some important city officials, including Dyster, have made it clear they are “not supportive of the whole thing.”
Maziarz and Dyster are political foes who have feuded over issues related to Wallenda in the past.
Dyster called Maziarz’s assertion about a lack of support from city officials “simply not true,” saying he has repeatedly said he would welcome a more permanent place for Wallenda in the city.
The mayor said the city has offered to help the two entities that were talking with Wallenda about setting up a Falls attraction. One of the two was the entity Wallenda specifically designated as handling future business dealings in the Falls, Dyster said.
“I don’t know of anyone in Niagara Falls who wouldn’t have been supportive of what was being proposed,” the mayor said.
Dyster suggested that much of Wallenda’s negative view of the Falls is a “result of what he’s being told by Maziarz” and others who are “transmitting their negativity about Niagara Falls to the people they’re taking to.”
“Sen. Maziarz has been unremittingly negative about Niagara Falls since he before he has represented us in the Senate,” Dyster said.
Maziarz said he believes Wallenda is “too inextricably linked to Niagara Falls” and something will eventually happen there.
Wallenda’s deal with Darien Lake will include one-hour performances at the park’s 1,800-seat Galaxy Theatre every day except Mondays.
Performers at the show, dubbed “Nik Wallenda: Beyond the Falls,” will include his wife, Erendira, and mother, Delilah, along with a sister, cousins and others. Shows, which will include a pyramid act, bicycle riding and pole climbing, will be held twice daily, at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
There also will be the chance for park-goers to interact with performers at a “tightrope training academy” three times daily, except for Tuesdays.
Wallenda called his deal with Darien Lake “a great opportunity for this entire region,” and noted his effort to get something done here has included “meeting after meeting after meeting.”
“There are other opportunities all over the world for me during the summer, that’s not an issue,” he said. “I gave my word from the beginning that I was going to come back to Western New York and that’s what I’m doing and I’ll continue to. We are working on other projects and a permanent residence in Niagara Falls, as well, for the future. But again, as I said, we all know how Niagara Falls works and it’s a process. But I also am a ‘never give up’ guy, and I won’t give up.”