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Downtown Buffalo is all set to greet the New Year

Matt Shaw will be high atop the 14-story Electric Tower when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday.

His goal will be to light the sky for eight continuous minutes with a fireworks display that will signal the arrival of 2018.

Joseph J. Montesano also will be on the tower's roof at 12.

He will pull the lever that starts the giant ball on its 73-second descent along the building's side.

The Buffalo Ball Drop and Fireworks have become a downtown tradition for three decades. The Iskalo tower is the center of an outdoor celebration that attracts thousands of hardy spectators each year.

First Night Buffalo, sponsored by Independent Health Foundation, is downtown's indoor family event for New Year's Eve. A drug-and-alcohol-free celebration, it runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday at Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin St.

The fireworks

The success of a fireworks show depends on a continuous display from multiple angles, said Shaw, president of Skylighters Fireworks, based in Orchard Park.

Shaw's display will be shot from six brackets fixed to the building at different locations. Staging a fireworks display in the heart of a city from the top of an historic landmark challenges Shaw.

"Given how close we are to spectators and the height of the building, we utilize certain effects, like angling the fireworks to go off the side of the building," Shaw explained.

About 6,000 fireworks will be sent into the sky by a team of 10 workers, Shaw said. The team will begin the setup at noon Sunday, but a lot of work was completed in advance at the company's warehouse in Boston.

Sunday night's anticipated single-digit temperatures will not affect the show, Shaw said. Neither will snowfall. High winds can delay fireworks, Shaw said. The height, location and proximity to spectators impose limitations on the type of fireworks Shaw will use. On Sunday, Shaw expects to debut a new type of firework called Whirlwind.

"It twists and turns on the way up and is bright silver," he said. "We'll launch 100 over a 20-second period."

The ball drop

The ball drop process begins with the transfer of the New Year's ball from its home at Buffalo Place downtown to the tower, said Montesano, director of property management for Iskalo Development.

Montesano leads a 10-man team in the arduous task of lowering the 220-pound ball to its destination between the second and third floor of the terra cotta tower. The ball – 5 feet tall and 4 feet across – will stop precisely at the year plate inscribed with 1912, the year the building opened.

"Interestingly, the ball is not a perfect circle," said Montesano. "It's a sphere."

Two men on the roof will operate the winch that  lowers the ball. Meanwhile a "roof top spotter will be looking at a gentleman across the street at ground level who is coordinating with New York City's ball drop to ensure they are synchronized."

Several workers will be stationed on the seventh floor to guide the power cables that light the ball. On the outside, there are 264 clear 15-watt bulbs and 16 clear 100-watt bulbs. Twenty-five LEDs illuminate the ball's interior.

"We're on and off the tower all day to make sure everything is tied down and secure," Montsesano said. "We go up for the last time around 11:30 p.m. Upstairs is all business."

"Once our job is done, the fireworks begin, and we move closer to the building behind a concrete barrier," he said. "We actually can feel the concussion. From our vantage point we cannot see the full display but it is spectacular to be that close."

The ball drop will feature performances starting at 10 p.m. by saxophonist Will Holton followed by singer Caitlin Koch. A laser show featuring downtown buildings is also planned.

First Night Buffalo

Live entertainment highlights the performances at the Convention Center that each year attract about 5,000 people.

Tickets are $12 through midnight Saturday at firstnightbuffalo.org. Tickets are $15 after 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the door of the Convention Center. Children 2 and under are admitted free.

Some of the popular entertainers, and their times:

* Limbo Queen Shemika Charles, two-time Guinness World Record holder for limbo dancing at 5:45, 7:15 and 8:45.

* Jeff Musial, the Animal Guy, arrives with cages full of exotic animals at 6:15 and 8:30.

* Black Light Dance Party, where glow gear will be available. New this year is the light-up dance floor. Music by CJ Sound from 5 to 9:30.

* Red Trouser Show is back by overwhelming demand. The troupe performs acrobatics and knife and fire juggling, 6:45 and 8:45.

* Meet your favorite storybook characters like Olivia, Frog & Toad, Pete the Cat, Wild Thing and the Very Hungry Caterpillar from 5 to 9:30.

* In Jest with Nels Ross will entertain with incredible juggling, daring stunts and lots of laughs at 5 and 7:30.

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