By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — The CherryT Ball Drop, Traverse City's downtown New Year's Eve celebration, is going live.
The giant illuminated cherry will drop as usual just before midnight Dec. 31 at the intersection of Front and Cass Streets. But this year, revelers can enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to live streaming and broadcasting on nm3.com and UpNorthTV.
"You don't have to come down, but can still watch Traverse City's ball drop instead of New York's," said event co-founder and board member Christal Wilcox-Frost. Viewers can even donate $1 to local charities by using the "give to" number on screen, she said.
The live element is one of a handful of changes to the annual celebration. This year's event also will feature separate parties for families and adults in the 5,500-square-foot Ecco space at 121 E. Front near Harbor Wear. The renovated former roller rink will host a family-friendly party from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and an adult dance party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Both ticketed events will feature DJ and other entertainment, plus snacks: pizza, cherry pie and ice cream for the younger set, and nibbles, a midnight champagne toast and cash bars with local craft beer, wine, cider, whiskey and vodka for the adults.
Admission to the CherryT Ball Drop and onstage entertainment is free, but ticketed VIP packages offering benefits like a front-row view for the midnight countdown also are available. Viewers are encouraged to bring a cash donation or canned good to benefit Goodwill Industries or the Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center.
"Everyone is just one medical crisis or job loss or unfortunate incident away from being homeless or not being able to put food on the table. It can happen literally in the blink of an eye and that's why we do this," said Wilcox-Frost, who lost a job last year. "People can grab a dollar or a canned good and help out their community and neighbors. It's different than going to a party. And it's super fun."
Outdoor entertainment will begin at 9 p.m. and will feature fire twirlers, beatbox champion Heatbox and the Traverse City All-Stars Cheerleading Team. A salute to past and present military personnel will include a USCG Air Station Traverse City fly-by, said Wilcox-Frost, who will emcee the event with fellow radio personality Ron Jolly.
Several downtown stores, bars and restaurants will remain open late, with many donating a portion of proceeds to local charities, she said.
The State Theatre will host its own family-friendly New Year's Eve party with party favors and a PG-or-under film from about 9 p.m. to midnight, said Deb Lake, executive director of the Traverse City Film Festival, which own and operates the theater. The ticketed event also includes viewing of the Times Square ball drop at midnight.
"We've sold out for the last three years," Lake said.
Last year's CherryT Ball Drop attracted between 1,200 and 1,500 revelers, Wilcox-Frost said. More important, it resulted in about $12,000 in cash donations and 6,000 pounds of food for area charities.
"That 'goodwill to men' kind of concept has caught on downtown and it's really great," she said.
For tickets or more information on street closings and parking, visit cherrytballdrop.com.