NORTH TONAWANDA – The North Tonawanda Common Council gave its approval last week to two popular community events that will be coming back to North Tonawanda.
One of these is the Gateway Harbor New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, which just a few months ago was on the chopping block but has since been revitalized with an influx of cash and volunteers from the Rotary Club of the Tonawandas.
Event organizer and President of 4DNT (For Downtown North Tonawanda/Tonawanda) Rick Maier told The Buffalo News that six years ago local tavern owners were looking for a way to draw people to the Tonawandas on New Year’s Eve and organized the first Gateway Harbor Ball Drop in 2008. They began with 30 board members but were down to four volunteers in October when they made the announcement to end the event, despite its popularity in the community.
“Those four people had to raise all that money. It was costing us $22,000 just to run the event,” said Maier. “It was just too much work.”
Maier said a partnership with the Rotary Club of the Tonawandas is an effort to continue the tradition by pooling both manpower and financial resources to ensure the future of the event.
Maier said the Rotary Club will provide insurance for the event.
In addition to the new sponsor, Maier said the City of Tonawanda Fire Department will lend its ladder truck and drop the ball in a new location, directly over the Erie Canal, which will allow for viewing along the canal in both cities.
Maier said the new drop site is just a 100 yards away from the previous ball drop at Sweeney and Webster streets. Fireworks will again follow the drop.
Council President Richard L. Andres Jr. after the meeting called the decision to continue the event “excellent.”
“This is great. I am very happy people in the community stepped up to not let a tradition die,” he said. “I am also happy that volunteers are willing to give up their New Year’s Eve for the rest of the community.”
The Council approved a request to close the Renaissance Bridge from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 in order for fireworks to be set up – the walkway will remain open until 11:45 p.m., and also to close Webster Street, between Tremont Street and the Renaissance Bridge during this same time period. Sweeney Street will be closed at 4 p.m. Dec. 31 to allow for both safe viewing and placement of the crane.
In addition to the ball drop, local taverns will take over the annual Pub Crawl for New Year’s Eve, which Maier said will give them the opportunity to bring in new sponsors next year as an alcohol-free event. He said the scavenger hunt was discontinued this year, but the Kids Fun Zone will continue. A list of all events is available at www.gatewayballdrop.com.
The Council also gave approval to the American Power Boat Racing Association request to host Thunder on the Niagara in Gratwick-Riverside Park on Aug. 15, 16 and 17. The hydroplane racing event on the Niagara River drew thousands this past summer to the two-day event, which is dubbed the “fastest show on water.”
In another matter, the board approved a request for $6,000 to match a federal housing rehabilitation grant. The three-year $450,000 block grant funds provided by the New York State Office of Community Renewal is used to help low- to moderate-income households bring their homes up to code. Over the past three years 19 homes have been rehabilitated, said Community Development Director Richard L. Tindell.
Tindell said after the meeting that the program, in its third and final year, was important to strengthen neighborhoods and he said the city plans to reapply to continue the program.
The Council also approved a request from the North Tonawanda Police Department to join the New York State Federal Excess Property Program at Fort Drum.
North Tonawanda Police Chief William R. Hall said the program allows the city to receive equipment that it may not otherwise be able to afford.
“We just wanted the option to get stuff that would help us with our mission and not cost the city,” Hall said.
According to Hall no weapons are part of the program, but surplus military items that range from vehicles to night vision equipment are available.