The biggest New Year's Eve celebration in Schuylkill and Carbon counties is set to kick off Saturday night in the center of Tamaqua.
Sparkling eagles designed by Brockton lighting technician Frank Fabrizio will soar high atop the ABC Tamaqua High Rise Building for the 14th Annual Tamaqua New Year's Eve Ballrise, coordinated by the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the TIMES NEWS, a publication of Pencor Services Inc.
The event is billed as the region's largest, highest and brightest welcome to the new year. The Tamaqua Ballrise is free to the public and will take place in front of the ABC Tamaqua High Rise building beginning at 10:15 p.m.
The celebration will include a jumbotron television with live feed from Times Square in New York City for 'New Year's Rocking Eve, The 40th Anniversary Party' with Ryan Seacrest and hosted by ageless teenager Dick Clark. The broadcast will begin at 10 p.m. on the ABC Television Network.
"It's really a family affair," said Linda Yulanavage, executive director, Tamaqua Chamber of Commerce.
As part of the spectacle, illuminated eagles affixed to the building will soar 175 feet to the top of the high rise, triggering the illumination of an oversized 2012 sign created by Fabrizio, who also engineers the light display and the Fountain of Lights at Tamaqua Depot Square Park.
Music will be provided by DJ Brandon Fritz. The ballrise is a popular event for many and has become a tradition.
In its first year in 1998, it was called a ball drop and was staged from the rooftop of the building, the tallest structure in Schuylkill County. The showcase was intended to be a one-time gimmick to introduce the arrival of Tamaqua's 200th birthday at the stroke of midnight and the yearlong Tamaqua Founding Bicentennial celebration.
Two dozen members of the Tamaqua Bicentennial Committee came up with the idea and expected to draw a modest crowd of 200 to 250 along the sidewalks. To everyone's surprise, more than 1,000 converged onto one block of downtown. Sidewalks could not contain the hordes as revelers swarmed onto Broad Street shortly before midnight, forcing police to perform an emergency closure of US209 in the heart of town.
Since then, accommodations are made each year to allow for the throngs who turn out.
From the start, Fabrizio, a choreographer of lighting, has engineered the light and sound spectacle in a way that mirrors New York City's Times Square tradition. In later years, the ball was changed to an eagle, a symbolic mascot used by Tamaqua Area High School. The change was made to give the event uniquely Tamaqua flavor.
The spectacle has had its share of surprises and unusual circumstances over the years.
In 1999, the committee hyped the show as a big countdown to the new millennium and Tamaqua's step into its third century. That year the ball went up, then down, and then continued to bounce, setting off fireworks and dazzling lights before a crowd of 1,200.
There was added suspense that year, with many fearing the Y2K bug would blanket the region and the entire country in total darkness at the stroke of midnight. But it never happened.
Many say the success of the annual ball rise is attributed to the novelty factor and the spirit of high rise residents, a group that opens their arms on New Year's Eve to host the community and region.
Some residents also open their apartment doors to help with preparation, as Fabrizio and his technicians require access to specific rooms within the building in order to install equipment.
Organizers say support from the Tamaqua police department is an essential part of the evening and helps ensure a safe celebration.
Various local restaurants, fast food eateries, and taverns will be open, some with special hours and fare to accommodate revelers.
"This family friendly event is the best way to welcome in a new year," says Yulanavage, adding that the chamber provides an added touch with helium-filled balloon released at midnight. Motorists are advised that the 200 block of East Broad Street, US209, will be closed to traffic from 10 p.m. until sometime after midnight.