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Firm to install tightrope for Wallenda

Rochester Business Journal
June 8, 2012

The tightrope Nik Wallenda will walk across over Niagara Falls next Friday is being installed by O'Connell Electric Co. Inc. of Victor.
 
CEO Victor Salerno said 35 percent to 40 percent of the contractor's business is related to power line work, so securing a tightrope across a gorge is not such a leap. But it is a company first.
 
"We recently celebrated our 100th anniversary, but this is the first high-wire act we have been involved in," Salerno said.
 
On June 15, Wallenda is scheduled to walk across the gorge on a 1,800-foot-long tightrope. The event is to begin around 10 p.m. and is expected to take roughly 35 minutes.
 
Wallenda, 33, is an American high-wire artist and acrobat who set a Guinness world record in 2008 for the longest distance and greatest height ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire. He is also a direct descendant of Karl Wallenda, founder of the Flying Wallendas, a legendary family high-wire act known for performing without a safety net.
 
Thomas Parkes, O'Connell's chief operating officer, his son Michael Parkes, power group manager, and other O'Connell engineers have been working with Nik Wallenda, the project engineers and other officials in Niagara Falls on the project since September.
 
The system is housed at O'Connell's Henrietta site. Wallenda also has tested the line when it was set up in the parking lot of the Seneca Niagara Casino.
 
The system is engineered with technology similar to what is found in a ski lift, Salerno noted. It includes steel support structures on each end of the seven-ton steel cable that will be embedded into the bedrock.
 
In addition to installing the line, O'Connell is responsible for recoiling the wire after the performance and shipping it for Wallenda.
 
Working on the project has resulted in a few headaches, but they have been resolved, Salerno said. The difficulties included securing approvals to use either a helicopter or a boat for the installation.
 
There was also the process of getting proper paperwork for the 10 linemen who will install the structure, since half of the project will be done in Canada.
 
The O'Connell team will head for Niagara Falls early next week, Parkes said. When the Maid of the Mist boat service closes around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, they will begin installation. It has to be completed by 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
 
Salerno said the job will not be a moneymaker for O'Connell but should result in some media attention.
 
The walk itself is garnering attention, with all 4,000 free tickets to see the performance from the American side of the Falls gone. It also will be seen on jumbo screens in the park and city of Niagara Falls. Wallenda's efforts to get approval for the walk attracted attention locally and in national media.
 
Salerno will not attend the event and most likely will watch a recording of the performance, rather than a live showing.
 
"I'll watch after we hold up our end of the bargain," he said.
 
Parkes and the O'Connell workers involved with the project, however, will have front-row seats.
 
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we're pretty excited," Parkes said. "Nik is well-trained and very confident in what he is doing."
 
It also will likely be a topic of discussion at the local firm for some time.
 
"It's how we keep everyone interested," Salerno said. "We're always looking for new opportunities."

6/8/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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