BERLIN – Town officials expressed interest in eliminating the midnight ball drop on New Year’s Eve following light attendance at the most recent event.
While staff and elected officials agreed the 6 p.m. ball drop on Dec. 31 was a success, the high staff costs and low attendance associated with the later event led council members to suggest the midnight event be cut.
“The crowds just weren’t there for the midnight event,” said Ivy Wells, the town’s economic and community development director.
During Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Steve Green asked Wells for a recap of the town’s New Year’s Eve festivities. He said he wanted her take on the events, as he’d noticed crowds seemed to be down for the later ball drop.
The Berlin ball drop tradition began more than a decade ago. While the event began small, it grew in popularity, eventually expanding into two events—a 6 p.m. ball drop for kids, designed to occur at what was midnight in Berlin, Germany, and a 12 a.m. event for adults.
Wells said this year’s kids ball drop was the busiest one she’d seen yet. Crowds stretched from Rayne’s Reef up to Sisters Wine Bar and there were more adults than children in attendance.
“I wouldn’t even call it the kids ball drop anymore,” she said. “I saw a lot of locals there that don’t have kids, they just wanted to be with their neighbors.”
Wells, who was downtown from about noon to help set up until about 1 a.m.to help clean up, said businesses were busy.
“They were doing amazing until probably about 8 o’clock,” she said.
She said that was in spite of the fact that the town brought in entertainment to perform in the hours leading up to midnight.
Mayor Zack Tyndall said New Year’s Eve was one of the town’s more expensive events. Tim Lawrence, the town’s electric utility director, said he had staff in town most of the day, as in addition to operating the truck that lowered the ball for the kids ball drop they’d also had to set up the screen for the laser show. In all, he said overtime costs for his department exceeded $3,400. He noted that if his team had just done the kids ball drop, costs would be about $1,400.
Jimmy Charles, the town’s public works director, said costs for his department exceeded $2,600. He said for just the 6 p.m. event, costs would have been under $2,000.
Tyndall said that while he didn’t have the exact police costs associated with the event, the ball drops did impact that department as well.
Green said he was a big supporter of the town’s events but felt maybe the time had come to stop hosting the late-night event considering the expense, the smaller crowds and the employees working extended hours on a holiday. Councilman Jack Orris agreed.
“Everywhere does New Year’s at midnight,” he said. “We do a 6 p.m. family friendly event. I think that’s kind of unique.”
Wells said that in the days after Dec. 31 she’d communicated with her peers elsewhere.
“I reached out to several other municipalities who also hold midnight events,” she said. “Every single one of them, their attendance was down more than 50%.”
Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols and Councilman Jay Knerr also spoke in support of not hosting the midnight event again. Knerr said he’d seen the lack of attendance himself.
“I was disappointed,” he said. “There were about 200 people. I expected 1,000 or more.”
He said there were a lot of midnight events on Dec. 31 that created a lot of competition for the one in Berlin. Wells added that businesses like The Globe and Burley Oak Brewing now offered their own events for the holiday.
“Each restaurant and bar is taking their own responsibility and doing wonderful events,” she said. “I think that’s great. We’re here to support the businesses.”
When asked about the discussion later this week, Berlin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ryan Nellans said Wells had already informed the chamber’s board that the later event would be canceled.
“I think that there are a lot of reasons that the midnight event wasn’t as busy as we remember from years past,” he said. “I think that cost of living probably had a lot to do with keeping people home. And those who did go out seemed to go to many of Berlin’s local hangouts, many of whom put on their own NYE parties or events. We also lost momentum over the last few years due to the poor weather.”
He’s hoping the issue will be reconsidered.
“I think that if the council hasn’t already scrapped a midnight ball drop that they should consider all of the circumstances instead of pulling the plug after one lackluster performance,” he said. “That decision would reduce the number of events with alcohol sales down to four. The town will then be holding one third of the potential alcohol permits unused. It takes roughly a year to build a new event. Makes it harder to support the businesses and the town on important issues like improving parking or business education and other initiatives when we’re really getting everything back on track and better.”