Columbia rocks in the new year

tflach@thestate.comDecember 31, 2013 

Columbia celebrated the start of 2014 with a downtown street party Tuesday that attracted thousands with music, ice skating, carnival rides and other fun.

“It’s something for everyone,” said Gina Rogers of Northeast Richland, whose family came to the three-year-old gathering for the first time.

Organizers want to make what’s officially known as the Famously Hot New Year’s Eve one of the nation’s top gatherings ringing in the start of each year.

Some of those in attendance say it already rivals better-known gatherings elsewhere to which they’ve gone.

‘It’s a good time with great entertainment,” said Joe Lockhart, who lives downtown, as he danced to the beat of the music on a clear, crisp night.

For Debra Tucker of Elgin, the party has steadily improved. “It keeps getting better,” she said.

The fledgling event’s reputation is good enough that James Holliday of the Earlewood neighborhood stayed home to try it out instead of traveling to another major city to welcome in the start of the year.

“If we have a good time, I’ll be back,” he said prior to the end of a party scheduled to end early Wednesday after fireworks and the appearance of the nationally known band Kool and the Gang.

Interim Police Chief Reuben Santiago predicted the crowd would equal and likely surpass the 25,000 who came a year ago.

More than 60 officers from city police, State House security and the State Law Enforcement Division – including a dozen undercover – provided security for the event along Main Street from the State House five blocks north.

The party was free, but some partygoers paid $125 for an indoor reception at the Capitol Center lobby that included a warm front-row seat for the entertainment along with plenty of food and drink.

Those who went to the reception said it’s a convenient one-stop site to enjoy the event with guaranteed parking nearby.

“Anybody knows a night out in downtown Columbia is going to cost you anyway,” said Jared Collins of Lexington.

Others in the crowd spent the night in a more athletic manner.

Vern Garcia of Harbison and daughter Carmenamelia came to skate at the rink in the plaza outside the Columbia Museum of Art.

“It’s starting the new year healthy, getting exercise and family fun,” Garcia said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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