Sarah Gardner: If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, tonight would be a good night to be there. Nik Wallenda, of the famous “Flying Wallendas” family, he’s crossing the falls — on a tightrope. He’s a bit nervous, reportedly, but both mayors of Niagara Falls — on each side of the border — are happy about all the tourist dollars this stunt will pull in.
We reached Paul Dyster, the mayor of Niagara Falls’ New York side — that’s where it all starts. Mayor Dyster, thanks for joining us.
Paul Dyster: Happy to speak to you.
Gardner: Now this high-wire act that’s going to go on tonight, is this the most exciting thing that’s happened to Niagara Falls since, I don’t know what?
Dyster: Well I performed the first same-sex wedding in New York State here at one second after midnight last year. That created a global stir of a different sort, I guess. But this is the first wire-walker that’s been allowed at Niagara Falls since 1896. So it’s been all that anyone in the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., or Niagara Falls, Ontario, has been talking about for six weeks.
Gardner: So describe the scene for us today. Is the city mobbed?
Dyster: The city is not mobbed as of yet. Although I just got word that the parking over at state park is now filled up, so…
Gardner: Now mayor, I understand that a lot of people in town would like to capitalize on this one-time event, but how are you going to do that? I mean, what happens when Nik Wallenda does his high-wire act, then what?
Dyster: Aside from the immediate benefits to the economy — restaurant meals, heads on beds in hotels, parking fees and all the rest of that — really the big benefit from this is the exposure we’re going to get. Niagara Falls is a very, very famous place. It routinely polls in the top two or three places that people in foreign countries are interested to see when they come to the United States, but we sometimes feel as though if we don’t get some major media exposure people forget what a wonderful place this is.
Gardner: What’s the economy in Niagara Falls been like, say, during the recession?
Dyster: We’re so poor to start with that recession’s don’t mean anything to us here. Back when we had the reputation as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World,” we didn’t even take the tourism industry seriously because we had big global headquarters here for major steel and chemical companies, and that’s where everyone worked. Those jobs disappeared overseas during the 1970s into the 1980s and it was really only about 10 years ago that we hit upon the strategy of emphasizing the tourism industry as a way of trying to make a comeback. So we’re coming from a long ways back, but I think in the last few years we’ve made some strong steps towards recovery.
Gardner: Mayor, I know that you have a lot of things to plan for, so I’ll let you go. But just one question: Are you nervous for Mr. Wallenda at all?
Dyster: I met with Mr. Wallenda and he told me that his kids are so used to him risking his life on the wire that he looks down while he’s walking and he sees them playing video games on hand-held devices. So if the family’s confident, I’m confident.
Gardner: Paul Dyster is mayor of Niagara Falls, N.Y. Mayor Dyster, thanks a lot.
Dyster: Thank you.
Gardner: Just want to add the last time a man walked across the Niagara Gorge, Grover Cleveland was president.
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