December 28, 2013

Ball to drop on downtown Augusta New Year’s Eve

Local restaurant owners want to start new tradition to draw revelers to the city.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The owners of Gagliano’s restaurant plan to drop the ball New Year’s Eve in hopes that holiday revelers will follow the glowing orb downtown.

Helena Gagliano and her husband, Jason McFarland, looked at what downtown Augusta has offered potential celebrants on New Year’s Eve in past years, and weren’t impressed.

So this year they plan to mirror, on a smaller scale, the Times Square ball drop right here in Augusta from the rooftop of 287 Water St., which houses their Italian restaurant and bar, Gagliano’s Bistro. The ball will drop from about 50 feet above the center of downtown.

Their goal, Gagliano said, is not so much to bring people to their restaurant but, instead, to bring people, and activity, downtown for what they hope will become an annual event.

“We’re doing this to start a new tradition, to draw people downtown, instead of other towns drawing people out of Augusta,” Gagliano said. “We noticed not much was really planned here in the past, for New Year’s Eve. They started doing something like this in Bangor years ago. At first they had 50 or 60 people. Now 4,000 to 5,000 people gather for it every year. The whole point is we’re trying to be part of reviving downtown Augusta. To have something happening here.”

First, they’ve got to build the ball. It’s not the sort of thing someone has sitting around the house. So they plan to build their own, with help from staff and Camp Keyes. But McFarland seems to have a pretty solid idea for what they’ll need. He’s thinking a ball of at least three feet around, made out of metal wire mesh so it’s tough but light. It’ll be slowly lowered from the rooftop from a wooden A-frame structure they plan to build on the roof, with a pulley to lower it by rope. An extension cord will be attached too, so the ball will light up.

“At that height, people should be able to see it from (Memorial) Bridge, and Hartford Station,” McFarland said. “It should be visible from almost 360 degrees.”

It’ll also likely be viewable from Market Square, which isn’t quite Times Square, but is in the central part of the city’s downtown.

Steve Pecukonis, downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the alliance “Is interested in anything that is going to bring people into the downtown.”

“We don’t have any other New Year’s celebrations downtown,” Pecukonis said. “We’re hoping it will grow into an annual tradition. It’s going to be our own, small, version of a New Year’s Eve ball drop.”

He said at McFarland’s request, he checked to see if the event needed any special permits or if there was any reason it couldn’t take place. He found none, so, “as of today, it’s a go,” Pecukonis said Friday.

Gagliano hopes the event will be well attended but recognizes, as a first time event, on a Tuesday night, it’s more likely to draw closer to 50 than 5,000 people. She hopes it will grow and build momentum to bring more people and business to the downtown, just like the one in Bangor. Ultimately, the couple said they could see an expanded event, with more downtown businesses being open, on a weekend, bringing 3,000 to 5,000 people out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in downtown Augusta.

Gagliano’s has a five-course New Year’s dinner earlier that evening, “but after 9, we’re going to switch gears and raise the volume,” Gagliano said. They’ll have a DJ and the bar will remain open during, and after, the midnight ball-drop festivities.

Don’t be shocked if you’re downtown during the day Tuesday and see a ball dropping a little ahead of time. McFarland plans a dry run, well before the approach of midnight, to make sure everything works.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647kedwards@centralmaine.com
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