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Preparations made for New Year’s Eve ball drop

The Buffalo Ball Drop and Fireworks that will light the sky over downtown on Thursday night is not the only New Year’s Eve celebration where an object is dropped, flown or thrown from a tall structure.

In Sarasota, Fla., a glowing pineapple dropped at midnight signals the New Year.

In Easton, Md., they drop a red crab.

And in Bethlehem, Pa., the celebration includes the drop of a 4½-foot tall, 85-pound Peeps chick to mark the start of a new year. The home of the pop culture marshmallow superstar, Bethlehem wraps a two-day festival around the chick drop, which occurs at 5:15 p.m. on New Year’s Eve so children can take part in the spectacle. And just like in Buffalo, where up to 12,000 revelers pack Roosevelt Plaza at the intersection of Huron and Genesee streets, Bethlehem’s bash includes fireworks too.

“Buffalo loves fireworks,” said Michael T. Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place. “They light up all of downtown.”

Pyrotechnician Matt Shaw owns and operates Skylighters Fireworks, the Orchard Park company that electronically will set off more than 2,000 pounds of fireworks from two different locations on the historic Electric Tower.

Preparations for the event started months in advance, said Shaw, who takes out $5 million in liability insurance to cover the show.

“We have to use a certain type of fireworks so we don’t damage the historic building,” he said. “These aren’t the same fireworks you would see at a Fourth of July event. These fireworks have low fallout with less debris that travels a shorter distance.”

Colors also set these fireworks apart with magentas, deeper purples, more yellows and a cool shade of aqua, Shaw said.

“They’re not your common comets and cross sets,” he added. “These go up and break apart and break apart again. Ring shells resemble necklaces.”

Some of Shaw’s fireworks – depending on their burst – take on the names of flowers like peonies and chrysanthemums. What’s more? They make noise.

“Everyone associates the finale with rocking intense white flashes,” Shaw said. “These fireworks whistle, too.”

The Electric Tower will wear them well. Opened in 1912, the tower was patterned after the Tower of Light, which was a highlight at the 1901 Pan American Exposition and the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, according to Buffalo Architecture and History, a website created and maintained by Charles LaChuisa.

The concept of the New Year’s Eve ball drop started in New York City in 1907, and a ball has been lowered there every year since then with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was suspended due to the wartime “dimout” of lights in New York City.

Buffalo’s controlled drop of a 220-pound ball on an 108-foot descent along the Electric Tower began in 1988, according to Schmand, who has witnessed the drop each year.

“This year, there are more options in downtown Buffalo,” Schmand noted. “Just the feel of downtown is different than it was a few years ago, as evidenced by the investment in the 400 and 500 blocks of Main Street. People will be amazed at how Main Street looks today. Chippewa had matured to the point where it’s not just a wild and crazy bar scene. It has restaurants and people will be dining at those restaurants.”

Schmand and Shaw joined several officials and business leaders associated with the 28th annual event for a test drop at the tower late Wednesday morning.

Watching the test were Mayor Byron W. Brown, Modie Cox of the Police Athletic League of Buffalo, and Daniel Couch, director of property management for Iskalo Development, which bought the Electric Tower in 2004.

On Wednesday, crews hoisted the custom-designed ball to the top of the tower to test the hundreds of special lights and the timing of the descent.

The controlled drop takes a minute and 13 seconds, which means the descent will begin at 11:58:47 p.m., Couch said. The ball is 4 feet in diameter and crafted of fabricated metal.

It is equipped with 326 15-watt incandescent bulbs and 16 100-watt incandescent bulbs, Couch said.

In 2013, the ball underwent several modifications to boost its energy efficiency. Internal lighting fixtures were changed from incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diodes.

“It greatly reduced the energy consumption,” Couch said. “After all, we are the Electric Tower.”

The New Year’s Eve event usually attracts from 8,000 to 12,000 spectators, although last year’s blizzard-like conditions significantly reduced the turnout, Couch said.

“Last year, we got hit with high winds approaching 30 mph,” recalled Couch. “The ball is safe up to 30 mph.”

Entertainment will start at 10:30 p.m. when Caitlyn Koch and her band will take the stage.

For those with earlier bedtimes, the 27th annual family-friendly First Night Buffalo will run from 5 to 10 p.m. in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. It will include music, carnival rides, a bounce house, acrobats, jugglers and more.

Metro Rail has announced extended rail service on New Year’s Eve with the last train departing the Erie Canal Harbor Station at 2 a.m. The last train will leave the University Station at 2:30 a.m.

Several communities in Niagara County also are also marking New Year’s Eve with special events.

In Niagara Falls, a family event will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. in the Niagara Falls Event and Conference Center, 101 Old Falls St. Enter via First Street. Admission is $6 for guests 4 and older and includes hats and noisemakers. Also included is a giant inflatable obstacle course, a dance floor, face painting, balloon artists, arts and crafts, family movies with free popcorn and costumed characters.

Family activities include a kids zone inside Salem Church, 114 Morgan St., in the City of Tonawanda. A midnight ball drop followed by fireworks will ring in the new year over the Renaissance Bridge on the Erie Canal.

New Year’s Eve will be celebrated a little early in the Village of Wilson, with the Lil’ Apple Ball Drop planned for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Wilson No. 1 Fire Hall, 250 Young St. This free, family-friendly event will feature music, dancing and healthy snacks like apples and popcorn, according to organizers. Free party hats and noisemakers also will be provided. The kids’ ball drop will take place at 9 p.m. The event is sponsored by Watch Wilson Grow.