Columbia celebration a hit, organizers say, citing higher attendance

tflach@thestate.comJanuary 1, 2014 

— A slightly larger crowd than last year rang in 2014 at Columbia’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which ended early Wednesday, organizers say.

The final attendance count won’t be available for a week. But organizers who put on the third edition of the event are happy with a turnout, which they say seemed to have increased a bit over the previous high.

Sam Johnson, co-chairman of the Famously Hot New Year’s Eve, said the turnout appeared “slightly bigger” than the 25,000 who attended a year ago.

“We definitely saw some growth,” he said, estimating the increase at a few thousand.

Organizers, who want to make the gathering one of the top New Year’s celebrations in the nation, say they already have started preparation for the next version.

“Every year, we’re gaining steam,” Johnson said.

The event featured local and nationally known bands, fireworks, carnival rides and ice skating spread along downtown’s Main Street.

The gathering, centered at Main and Gervais streets in front of the State House, is an ideal setting, organizers said. “It’s such an iconic site,” Johnson said.

The crowd was well-behaved, interim Columbia police chief Ruben Santiago said.

Five arrests occurred for disorderly conduct, drunkenness and public urination in and around the party, a number that Santiago said is “a very small deal for an event this size.”

Last year, there was one arrest after 14 during the initial downtown party.

More than 60 police officers were on hand to keep things in line, Santiago said.

Johnson isn’t sure yet if the event finished in the black financially

The event’s price tag is about $480,000, with nearly a quarter of that coming from taxpayer money that the city and Richland County, he said.

Corporate sponsors covered about two-thirds of the event’s cost. The party also sold 1,200 tickets for a special lounge area with plenty of food and drink at $125 each, Johnson said.

One goal for the future is to make the giant LED screen – leased for the event and mostly used to show close-ups of bands performing -- more interactive with the audience, he said. In the future, the screen may be used for tributes to local civic leaders who died as well as tweets about the event from the crowd, he said.

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