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Ball drop starts year with new sponsor

NORTH TONAWANDA –Those who have enjoyed the New Year’s Eve party along the Erie Canal in the Tonawandas, likely won’t even notice the change, but a brand new group is taking over the annual “Gateway Harbor Ball Drop” on Wednesday.

The event includes things to do in both North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda, and for both kids and adults. The night of fun will culminate in the ball drop and fireworks on the Renaissance Bridge along the shared border of the Erie Canal.

Greg Doel, the owner of Crazy Jake’s on Webster Street, said he’s been part of the planning team since he opened his bar and restaurant in 2008, but this year he and Canal Fest Chairman Larry Denef and their group, Weekends on Webster, will take over the event since the group 4DNT (For Downtown North Tonawanda/ Tonawanda) ended its sponsorship.

“We started Weekends on Webster and have hosted a summer concert series every year, three years running now, from the end of June to the first of August,” Doel said.

He said they moved into the winter event because they didn’t want to see the ball drop end.

“I didn’t want to see it die for the whole area. So we said we would take the reins and run it for awhile and keep it going,” said Doel.

He said the Gateway Harbor Ball Drop, which started in 2008, is part of the continuing growth in the city of North Tonawanda along Webster Street.

“There’s been a lot of new business coming into the area, between the new bistro, a lot of nice shops, an Italian restaurant a couple doors down. A lot of the people play off of each other,” Doel said.

For adults, the Pub Crawl, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., gives people a chance to visit bars that are all within six to eight blocks of each other on both sides of the canal.

Eight bars will participate – Crazy Jake’s, Dwyer’s, the Broadway Hotel and the Dockside Bar and Grill, all in North Tonawanda; and P.J. Hooligans, Mooney’s Elks Lodge 860 and American Legion 264 in the City of Tonawanda. The cost is $10 per person in advance or $15 on the day of the event. The ticket includes drink specials.

“It gives everybody a chance to visit with other places and see what it’s like inside. A lot of people stick to their favorites and don’t venture out,” Doel said.

Those who participate get a punch card that they can redeem for commemorative long-sleeve T-shirt after they stop in each bar.

For those who don’t like to drink, or want another reason to explore, there will be a merchant scavenger hunt to check out shops in the two cities.

For families, admission is $5 for the Kids Zone at the Salem United Church of Christ, 114 Morgan St. in the City of Tonawanda.

The culmination will be the ball drop and fireworks at midnight on the Renaissance Bridge, right between the two cities. The 15- to 20-minute fireworks show will be provided by Young Explosives, which does the fireworks for the Fourth of July celebration and Canal Fest every year. Good viewing is available on both sides of the canal.

“It’s not a shirt-and-tie event,” Doel said of the events, “But at Crazy Jake’s we will have a toast with free champagne and we usually have about 500 people here.”

He continued, “By the end of the night you usually end up at your favorite spot. Everybody in the community comes down, and it gives them a chance to celebrate the new year. As long as the weather’s good, there will be thousands of people here.”

Advance tickets are available at the participating bars and will be available beginning at 4 p.m. on the day of the event at the redemption tent on Webster Street, across from Crazy Jake’s. Parking is free.

More information is available on Facebook at “Weekends on Webster” or “Crazy Jake’s.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com