NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - News 4 covered thousands of stories in 2012 and many of them featured people doing amazing and fascinating things. But one person really captivated us and catapulted a western New York wonder into the international spotlight.
Crowds on both sides of the border went crazy when daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed the Niagara Gorge, walking a high wire from the United States to Canada in less than a half hour. The 1,800-foot journey secured Wallenda's spot in Niagara Falls history, making him News 4's Person of the Year.
EXTRA | Watch the video with this story to hear from Wallenda and his response to being selected as News 4's Person of the Year
John Percy, of the Niagara Tourism Convention Corporation, says Wallenda helped the Falls economy. Shoppers spent more than $3 million over the 'Wallenda Walk' weekend.
"What is bigger for us, and I think bigger for the destination, was the amount of public relations and the value of the PR. It was millions," Percy said. "There were pages and pages and pages of media listings of media reports from all over the world."
Percy says the tourism agency couldn't buy this kind of worldwide publicity, valued at around $100 million. Now they are trying to ride a strong current into 2013 using Wallenda's June 15th walk to promote the destination "filled with exciting activities for the entire family."
There are clear challenges in bringing people to Niagara Falls, namely the difference in development, but the cityis looking to cash in on Wallenda's wonder. Mayor Paul Dyster says outdoor adventure activities are being considered for the Falls, such as rock climbing down the gorge. It's nearly as thrilling, the mayor says, as walking across the racing rapids.
"There's a recognition that one of the areas for growth of jobs and investment in western New York that is available to us is to revitalize the tourism industry here," Mayor Dyster said.
He added the Wallenda-esque attraction would create new private sector jobs and would supplement activities already up and running, like the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds and the Whirlpool Jet Boats.
But the natural beauty of Niagara Falls is at risk, according to Falls historian Paul Gromosiak, though Gromosiak agrees Wallenda should be Person of the Year.
"He did do a brave thing. It did take nerve to do it, I'll give him credit for that. But they don't understand the natural world and how it should be anymore," Gromosiak said.
And even though Wallenda's stunt was what brought the worldwide publicity to the area, Mayor Dyster says the falls itself stole the show.
"When you saw the images on the actual night of the walk, you've got little tiny Wallenda and great big Niagara Falls behind him. In the end, man and man's works get dwarfed by the power of nature," said Mayor Dyster.
But Wallenda's attention-grabbing feat at one of the wonders of the world is driving visitors to the destination and the region, hopefully for years to come.
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