Tonawanda News — After five years of counting down at Gateway Harbor, the New Year’s Eve ball drop will now be a thing of the past.
Debbie Darling, vice president of event organizers 4DNT, confirmed the news Tuesday morning.
“There are many factors that have gone into it, but primarily it’s a lack of funding and lack of volunteers,” she said. “It was five years of great success and was building with real momentum ... but rather than try to do it with a skeleton crew ... we decided it was best we don’t continue on with it.
“I feel bad for the community. That’s why we did it. Unfortunately, we’re just not going to be able to do it this year.”
The New Year’s Eve ball drop, which started in 2008, included such features as music, food, a pub crawl, a merchant scavenger hunt, fireworks and the notoriously quirky ball drop itself. Its often-untimely descent even led to the motto, “It Ain’t New Years Until We Say It Is.” The crowds have grown every year, from hundreds to thousands. But committee participation hasn’t.
4DNT president Rick Maier said the group had an emergency meeting Monday night. Only five people showed up, he said.
“No manpower, no money. It’s a shame,” Maier said. “It was something we got going and we kind of hoped we could pass it on to someone else. But apparently nobody wants to take it. Very, very, very frustrating.”
With the growing difficulty in getting sponsorship money, the group doesn’t have enough to cover its insurance, he said. “People think that when the ball comes down, how much can it cost?”
Darling said that while most of the sponsors that have backed the event for years have been “very kind,” others have been unavailable this year, and even without that issue, the manpower just isn’t there to keep things going. Several key members — some of those who have contributed the most time and effort — have had to drop out, she said.
“The enthusiasm is still there for those who would like to see the event continue on,” Darling said. “But with a crew of five to six people. it’s just not possible.”
Maier said that when the ball drop started in 2008, there were 25 to 30 people on the committee. And the work behind the event didn’t just start Dec. 31. Before that, there were months of “knocking on doors, making a lot of phone calls,” he said. And on the day itself, he’d be up before dawn and going until 2:30 a.m. the following morning.
“I hate to see the community lose anything like this,” he said. “It’s terrible, especially with all the work we’ve put into it. People don’t understand. We start meeting in August and carry on up until ball drop.”
Joyce Santiago, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas, said that while the news was disappointing, it wasn’t truly a surprise.
“We kind of knew this was coming,” she said. “It takes a lot of hands and a lot of dollars to put something like (this) together, and unfortunately this year, we don’t have either of those.
“It’s a shame, but I totally understand where they’re coming from. We want to thank all of the people who have helped throughout the years and we certainly understand that without the proper support, they just can’t do it alone.”
The event included a merchant scavenger hunt and a pub crawl, both designed to bring patrons into Twin Cities establishments. Suzanne Todaro, whose Gleam & Glimmer Stained Glass Studio on Webster Street took part in the scavenger hunt, said she was disappointed in the news.
“We were busy,” she said of the studio. “We always had a lot of traffic. It was just a fun evening for us.”
Darling said that she believes the one piece of the festivities, the Kids Fun Zone event, will continue at Salem United Church of Christ in Tonawanda. As far as the other events, she wouldn’t mind seeing a holiday miracle.
“Miraculously, if someone came forward and said, ‘I can pay for everything,’ we certainly would scramble,” she said. “I would like to see someone come forward to do that ... but in today’s world ... I don’t think anyone’s going to do that. But it would be a nice Christmas present.”