NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – The city of Niagara Falls says daredevil Nik Wallenda still owes about $25,000 for public safety costs from last month's tightrope walk across the falls, but Wallenda says the New York city has already received more than it should have.
The dispute boils down to differing interpretations of legislation the state passed to permit the June 15 stunt. The legislation requires Wallenda to pay "any and all costs associated with safety in conjunction with law enforcement or security."
Mayor Paul Dyster said Friday that entitles the city to be reimbursed the $43,000 it spent, mostly on police and fire overtime, as part of a crowd and traffic management plan. The city, which held a street festival and other activities, has been paid $17,500 so far, he said.
But Wallenda and his attorney, John Bartolomei, countered the city isn't entitled to anything because Wallenda's walk took place on New York state property and the state already has been paid. They said any expenses incurred by the adjacent city of Niagara Falls came from activities it staged on its own to try to capitalize on the spectacle and aren't Wallenda's to bear.
"Just because Neil Diamond is playing down the road doesn't mean you can throw an event and charge him security fees for the event," Wallenda, of Sarasota, Fla., said by phone. "I just think it's goofy."
Bartolomei sent a letter to the city this week saying that not only should Wallenda not have to pay the additional $25,000, he should be refunded the $17,500 already paid.
Wallenda began his walk from Niagara Falls State Park, where about 4,000 people were permitted to watch, and finished across the gorge in roomier Niagara Falls, Ontario, where an estimated 120,000 people gathered.
Wallenda paid $200,000 to New York state and $100,000 to Canada to cover their costs for the event, which was broadcast live in prime time. New York's sum included $150,000 for security, Wallenda said.
"I had an agreement with the state that was fulfilled," he said.
"I know the city's crying about its cash flow, but why come after this guy?" said Bartolomei. "This is the guy who generated tens of millions of dollars of free advertising for the city of Niagara Falls."
Wallenda called the dispute disheartening as he considers in which country he might stage a follow-up tourist attraction and show. He said that not only have Canadian officials not sought any additional money, but they've more warmly embraced him, inviting him back for appearances and the dedication of a plaque. The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, is pushing to build an elevated, life-size bronze statue of Wallenda so tourists can take pictures that give the illusion they are walking the high wire with him. Mayor Jim Diodati said he sees it as a potential tourist draw.
"They just get it," Wallenda said.
Dyster, however, said his effort to recoup expenses is strictly business.
"I don't have the right as mayor of the city of Niagara Falls to gift public funds," he said. "I'm not a private businessman dealing with Nik Wallenda. ... I'm acting under legislation that gives me the opportunity and the duty to recover the costs."
Wallenda negotiated a separate agreement with Canada under a resolution approved by its Niagara Parks Commission. Diodati said he didn't expect to be fully reimbursed for the extra police and fire crews who were on duty.
"We'll spend millions of dollars marketing our destination," he said. "We saw this as, an event came to us unsolicited. We became a partner."