BY ANNE STANTON
TRAVERSE CITY — A massive crowd is expected at the CherryT Ball Drop in downtown Traverse City tonight, but police aren't worried about bad behavior.
Traverse City Police Captain Brian Heffner said police had no incidents last year. He believes a strong police presence helped. This year, eight full-time police officers will pair with eight volunteer reserve officers to patrol the gigantic party.
"For the most part, there's no alcohol served around the viewing area for the ball drop and fireworks display, so you have people who genuinely want to meet up with friends, donate to various charities, and watch the ball drop," Heffner said.
Those with an allergy to massive crowds can tune into UpNorth TV, channels 97 and 992, to watch a crane lower a giant red cherry, illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights. The show starts at 9 p.m. and can be livestreamed at upnorthmedia.org.
Horizon Books has been open for all the CherryT ball drops, said Sean Jordan-Case, who works at the store.
Crowds have grown exponentially every year — both inside the store and out, he said.
"Last year, I stood on the street to see the crowd. It was an ocean from here to the clock tower on Union and Front. You couldn't see the street at all. It was a complete ocean of heads. People went bananas when they dropped the ball."
Jordan-Case said the crush of humanity doesn't seem dangerous, but added that it's probably not the safest place for small children.
"It's mostly all adults and half of them are pretty drunk to begin with. They seem to be peaceful drunks," he said.
To reduce confusion and congestion, Heffner said the beverage area at the old Milliken lot will close immediately after the cherry ball drops. There are still plenty of downtown bars and restaurants where folks can continue celebrating.
This year's event features separate parties for families and adults in the 5,500-square-foot Ecco space at 121 E. Front. 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 are ticketed events. The New Year's Knight Rally in da Alley will offer up a cash bar, live music, food and a heated tent at the corner of Cass and Union streets from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are available at the door.
Watching the CherryT ball drop, of course, is free along with outdoor entertainment that starts at 9 p.m. with fire twirlers, beatbox champion Heatbox and the Traverse City All-Stars Cheerleading Team. A salute to past and present military personnel will include a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City fly-by.
VIP tickets are available for those wanting a front-row seat to the drop.
Organizers encourage revelers to dig into their pockets for charity — thus the name, CherryT. A cash or canned food donation are preferred.
Free BATA park and ride shuttles are available to downtown. Shuttles leave every half hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. from the Grand Traverse County Civic Center and Traverse City West Middle School. For more information, call 941-2324 or visit bata.net.
For information on parking and event tickets, go to cherryt-balldrop.com.